Facebook’s fatal flaw

“I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can’t unless the people’s right to privacy means more than a right only to hear excuses after the damage is done.” –   Joe L. Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and possible leader of a new committee on Internet Privacy.

I recently wrote a post stating that Facebook is not likely to be open to strong competition any time soon because the emotional switching costs for consumers are so high. The only thing that would bring them down, I opined, was scandal or the malaise that comes from a lack of competition.

Unfortunately I witnessed this prediction come true when my Facebook account was hacked just hours after I ran this post.  All conspiracy theories are welcome.

I had the bizarre experience of watching somebody posing as me, trying to sell services to my friends through the Facebook instant chat function. I felt violated and angry because the perpetrator was using my image and reputation to scam my relatives and close friends. I also learned that two other people I know had the same experience on the same day, suggesting this was probably a widespread attack.

Luckily I caught it quickly but here’s the part that really got me.  I went to Facebook “help” to learn how to report the incident.  Here are the instructions they provided:

1) Change your password

2) Run a virus scan on your computer

3) Don’t fall for phishing scams again

Glaringly absent is any option to let Facebook know it happened.

Call me old fashioned, but if my company’s product was used to pose as my customer and rob my customer’s friends, I would want to know about it. In fact I would pursue the scammer with all available force. Facebook’s policy sends a message that they don’t give a damn about security and customer privacy, which more or less confirms what we already knew any way.

If you are a marketing professional thinking about a Facebook strategy, this cavalier delinquency would certainly make me think twice.

Note: shortly after I wrote this post I read an article in the New York Times about the impact of cyber-bullying through Facebook. In one case, Facebook would not respond to threats against children and the parents had to go through the legal system to get it stopped. Facebook is just asking to be legislated, it seems.

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