BigStock Photo / David Tran
[Editor’s Note: This guest commentary is by Seattle-based entrepreneur David Longdon, founder and president of motion.social.]
For the last few years, I’ve been on an admittedly quixotic entrepreneurial adventure building a fitness-focused social network. With Facebook’s latest data scandals in the limelight and Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearings on everyone’s mind, here is my take on potential opportunities around data privacy and security, and niche social networks.
How We Got Here
Facebook’s entire history is a series of privacy misdeeds and tech bro arrogance. As described in The Economist, “this episode fits an established pattern of sloppiness towards privacy, tolerance of inaccuracy, and reluctance to admit mistakes.”
In the mid-2000s Facebook was siloed in Ivy League universities, which gave it a caché of exclusivity when it launched to the general public. That caché gets credited as being one of the main drivers associated with the service’s unprecedented growth. Facebook’s aggressive user acquisition strategy has always been clear. As Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth noted in a 2016 internal company memo about the company’s aggressive tactics, “The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.”
Sheryl Sandberg dismissed that memo on NPR, but it’s absolutely on target.
The pressure for user acquisition is everywhere. The friends counter reminds you that you never seem to have as many as everyone else. There are constant prompts to invite new people and connect with people who know people you might know. Some of my first Facebook posts pondered the meaning of a “Facebook friend” since I figured the outer rings of my actual social network totaled maybe 100. Was I the only one who felt like a loser because some in my Facebook network had hundreds of friends?
Massive scale begets perverse incentives. Facebook’s vast numbers of users mean it can conduct interesting experiments involving “engagement” and “brain hacking.” Facebook has moved well beyond merely capturing web browsing data to more intimate kinds of data. Isn’t it funny in an ironic, pathetic, sort of way that a Facebook game called “FarmVille” was harvesting user data? At this point, Facebook isn’t a social network, it’s a surveillance machine. Facebook Messenger is particularly egregious. If we didn’t know it before, the Cambridge Analytica scandal (as well as the Equifax …read more