Deconstructing the great wall of Facebook…

A somewhat grey cloud has hung over Facebook on the issue of data sharing and privacy for some time. The advent of ‘Facebook Connect’ opened up a potential dream scenario for marketers whereby they have an ability to capture extensive user data that fans agree to share when they ‘connect with Facebook’. Recently the world’s largest social network announced several new features, including a new ‘Download Your Information’ function allowing users to export the majority of their profile information.

So why have Facebook made this ‘enhancement’? Well, as you’ll hear in the blockbuster ‘The Social Network’, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will never be finished. But the real reason could be either an attempt to turn down the ‘heat’ with regards to privacy and disclosure on Facebook, or an early mark in the sand ahead of the forthcoming launch of ‘GoogleMe’.

Google, of course, has a longstanding commitment to users that it will always be at least as easy to migrate from a Google product as it will be to switch in from an alternative. With Facebook, however, many would have thought – and probably still do – that they’d want to keep you locked-in by controlling your content?

Well, the times they are a changing: With over 500m users worldwide and no sign of the bandwagon coming to a halt, Zuckerberg and his team no longer seem to hold the same concern that loosening user controls will result in any exodus en-mass.

It may well be that this is just a[nother] Facebook ‘smokescreen’ and will not deliver any real ability for users to move their data elsewhere, but it could lead to a number of outcomes:

On the plus side?

Users can leave Facebook with something to show for it. Admittedly, users could – if they wish – go through the laborious task of right-clicking on every photo and saving it to their desktop, but now they have the ability to keep hold of ‘their’ content without anywhere near so much of the leg-work.

For us marketeers, this also widens the Facebook window of opportunity. Previously we could create web pages and microsites with Facebook Connect functionality and use this to enhance online experiences for customers, but now we stand to be able to deliver much more. Effectively anything within Facebook could now – with permission – be drawn for use into third-party sites.

And wearing the negative hat…

You can’t access everything, and if you could, what would you – the end user – do with it? The content that users will probably be most concerned about being able to port – photos, messages, etc., are up for grabs, but contacts are not. In an age where more social discourse takes place in Facebook than in the entire sphere of email, this could be a considerable constraint. And for most marketeers – being able to capture all contacts (read: networks) externally really is the golden nugget we’ve been hoping for and still aren’t getting.

Scam. Hack. Phish? The potential this opens could possibly hold no bounds. Beware!

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