Facebook gets lippy

29 Giu Facebook gets lippy

TelecomTV, June 29, 2009
In a response to the growing clamour over targeted advertising, Facebook the adolescent Web business (what else can you call a five-year old start-up) has decided it needs to start influencing regulatory policy, just like an adult. Ian Scales reports.  You know you’re an incumbent when you start hiring lobbyists. Facebook has been beefing up its lobby activities in both Washington and in Europe to head off onorous legislation from “well meaning” politicians  concerned about the misuse (or just use) of personal data for targeted advertising. The world’s largest social networking site says it’s worried that politicians might be bounced by public concerns over privacy into ‘inappropriate’ legislation. And that might see a banning of practises which, with the right safeguards, might be deemed acceptable. So Facebook is getting structured and professional about lobbying –  just like the telcos and other big corporates already are. In Europe Facebook has appointed Richard Allan, who used to lead European regulatory affairs for Cisco, to head up its European government lobbying activities. In the US it has hired Timothy Sparapani, a long-time civil rights lawyer who has previously worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, to head up its team.  The timing could be good. With the Obama administration still bedding in there’s probably still time to influence communications policy in a way that wasn’t possible under a Bush administration which took its lead from the powerful ‘big telco’ lobby. Now the wind appears to be blowing in the other direction. Obama’s support for Internet neutrality through his campaign has now been reinforced by his appointment of Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, to his advisory board for science and technology, and the hiring of Google’s global public policy head, Andrew McLaughlin, as the administration’s deputy chief technology officer.  It will be interesting to see how privacy policy on both sides of the Atlantic now develops. Facebook and Google would probably support legislation that kills off the legally and ethically dubious business models (such as Phorm’s click-stream eavesdropping –  see The Bizarre ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ world of Phorm), but that at the same time creates regulatory space for ‘opted-in’ targeted advertising of the sort that the big web sites want to maintain and develop. Privacy of a different sort has also been exercising minds at Facebook, where a privacy control feature has been added so that users can choose who can see their posts. A fundamental flaw with the current version is that posts can be read by any friends  and, as Facebook itself now points out, comments shared with close buddies are not necessarily also best shared with parents, siblings or (gasp) employers. The new controls will allow users to specify which groups (or even named individuals) are allowed to see particular posts. Other good news for Facebook and the other large sites was that the frenzy of posting which followed the death of Michael Jackson (a popular singer who died suddenly last week, for those of you sane enough not to follow these things too closely) didn’t bring them down. While Jackson’s leaving the building did produce a traffic spike which slowed down news and video sites such as ABC and CBS, it failed to cause any general devastation.