Advertising Age has published what reads as a damning round up of recent activity at Facebook. This includes the controversial recent privacy changes. The point of the piece is that Facebook isn’t a start-up anymore and these are growing pains. Shockingly perhaps, Facebook will be ten next year. Yes, 2013 represents its ninth birthday.
However, the piece argues that “despite Facebook’s Harvard-dorm-room roots, the company’s modus operandi is more stubbornly childish than post-collegiate”. The Ad Age piece says we should “think of Facebook as a self-absorbed, petulant brat, one that doesn’t understand how to play well with others” and that include users, investors, partners, competitors”.
The piece goes on to list six recent behaviourial issues:
1. Last month Facebook created a more-prominent control panel called Privacy Shortcuts that means you can now no longer hide from Facebook search. As New York Times “Bits” blogger put it: “when Facebook giveth, Facebook taketh away”.
2. There are Facebook’s tax affairs, that along with those of Google (Google boss responds to UK tax avoidance: “It’s called capitalism”, says Schmidt”), which The Guardian highlighted before Christmas to reduce its international tax bill by running revenues through Ireland:
“Facebook is structured so that companies buying advertisements on the website in the UK, or anywhere outside of the US, have to pay Facebook Ireland.
“This allowed Facebook Ireland to make gross 2011 profits of £840m – or £3.1m per each of its 287 staff. Despite the high gross profit, Facebook Ireland was able to cut its tax bill to just €3.2m by using an accounting technique called the “Double Irish”, The Guardian reported.
3. Facebook-owned Instagram angers users with its “breathtaking revision of its Terms of Service” that granted it blanket rights to sell user photos to third parties without compensation. The anger forced Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom to back track and insist that “It is not our intention to sell your photos”.
4. Facebook doesn’t play well with start-ups that have built businesses on its platform. At the end of last year Facebook gave every indication it would now develop its own social games after it and Zynga overhauled an agreement between the two companies. This means it can compete directly with struggling Zynga.
“We have streamlined our terms with Zynga so that Zynga.com’s use of Facebook Platform is governed by the same policies as the rest of the ecosystem.
“We will continue to work with Zynga, just as we do with developers of all sizes, to build great experiences for people playing social games through Facebook,” Facebook said.
5. Also last month, Facebook introduced the Poke app that allows users to send self-destructing texts, videos and images. However, as Bloomberg noted it was “so closely modeled on Snapchat that it led to speculation that Facebook had tried to buy the smaller company”.
“Facebook put it all together in just 12 days, and TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reports that Mark Zuckerberg wrote parts of the code himself, notwithstanding his minimal involvement with day-to-day programming. The Facebook chief executive officer also lent his voice to Poke’s audio push notifications.
“Snapchat users were not impressed. They hated the new app, deriding it as an obvious ripoff. Om Malik wonderedwhy Facebook, with all its engineering and product talent, “can’t really invent any new single online behavior that would keep people addicted to Facebook?” Slate technology writer Farhad Manjoo noted that the attempted Snapchat suckerpunch signaled an innovation deficit at the bigger company. “Facebook shouldn’t be ashamed that it had to copy Poke,” wrote Manjoo. “But it should be ashamed that it never even tried to invent it,” Bloomberg reported.
6. Facebook doesn’t doesn’t use Ad Choices, the US industry’s standardised ad-privacy programme. This causes problems for agencies. It “costs extra time and money, and perhaps most important, creates additional privacy concerns”, Ad Age reports.
All of this is hurting Facebook although not apparently slowing its growth as Ryan Block, former editor in chief of AOL’s Engadget and the co-founder of tech community site Gdgt, noted recently in a piece announcing he was quitting Facebook and Instagam:
“This month, surely to the chagrin of family members and friends with whom I haven’t spoken face to face for over a decade, I quit Facebook. I also suspended posting photos to Instagram, the photo sharing service that Facebook recently acquired for $715 million and where I have almost 9,000 followers. But probably not for the reasons you might think.
“Facebook’s legendarily fast and loose approach to user privacy has long been something of a cliché, which is why deleting one’s account is now something of a hollow techno-political statement – the Internet equivalent to moving off the grid to a cabin in the mountains. And it’s certainly not as if Facebook has much to worry about, as no number of high-profile abandoners over the last two years have slowed the company’s ballooning growth, now at over a billion active users, ” Block wrote on the NYT’s bits blog.
There is a sense in all of this that makes you want to say that Facebook as it approaches 10 — that’s about about 70 in web years — it should change its ways. Maybe it can’t, maybe this is how Facebook book is deep down in its DNA.