Facebook Woes Coming To IT


by Tony Kontzer

Today's subject is privacy--or more appropriately, the lack of it. Whether you're in charge of customer data for a large corporation or simply one of Facebook's more than 400 million users, chances are you have reason to be thinking about privacy.

Facebook users, in particular, are wringing their hands over a series of privacy gaffes that raise serious questions about the popular social media service's ability to protect its members' personal information. It started with Facebook's recently announced intention to share member info with external web sites that display a Facebook "like" button, and then reached a more fevered pitch when a flaw was discovered that lets users access some of their friends' private information, including chats with other friends.

Throw in a recent find from Consumer Reports that a majority of Facebook users willingly post private information, such as complete birthdates and the names of their children, that could put them at risk, and it's easy to see the potential for this to become a real quagmire.

IT decision-makers should take Facebook's struggles to protect its users to heart, because they may soon find themselves having to take measures to prevent similar fiascos from occurring with their own customers. A draft of a bill currently making the rounds through Congress would expand the definition of private customer information, and would also ramp up requirements related to privacy policy disclosure. That could mean having to re-jigger customer data repositories and the policies that govern them.

Clearly, this is an important topic. No self-respecting company wants its customers to feel violated, which is ironic since so many companies make customers feel exactly that. And that's a big reason Congress is looking to bring U.S. privacy regulations more in line with that of many European nations.

But the message that IT execs should take from all of this is as follows: Don't wait for Congress--ramp up your privacy efforts now. Even if your customers aren't clamoring for it, chances are that's because they don't understand the privacy implications of your business, or how to effectively manage their own privacy in doing business with you. By setting your privacy bar high, and promising customers that you'll safeguard their data, you'll engender the kind of confidence that will be needed to ensure continued success. And maybe, if you're lucky, you can avoid finding yourselves in the situation now confronting Facebook.


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