Facebook needs to evolve communications on privacy issue

In the past week alone, Facebook has faced a slew of media reports questioning the company's understanding and respect for user privacy.

Though it's certainly not a new issue, in the past week alone, Facebook has faced a slew of media reports questioning the company's understanding and respect for user privacy.

A somewhat tuneless Q&A with Elliot Schrage, VP of global communications, marketing, and public policy at Facebook, in The New York Times just fueled growing concerns about privacy.

Of significance to communications professionals was Schrage's admission that the company needs to “rethink the tempo of change and how we communicate it.”

Facebook announced its Instant Personalization feature and the Like button at a developer conference in April, triggering new concerns about privacy.

The issue also became a public policy one when four senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning the decision to share user information with marketers, while consumer groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For a company as intrinsically involved in people's daily lives, and one that relies on users to grow and profit, Facebook has not prioritized its communications with users. Instead, it has seemingly focused on its product and rolling out new systems that coincide with major conferences.

Schrage said in the Times Q&A that Facebook does not share user information with advertisers. Yet, it has not communicated that message effectively, given that so many consumers have questions about this very issue.

As social networking sites take their place in the lexicon of big business in the US, the same issues that affect large influential companies will arise – How does a company protect an employee? How does it address concerns with consumers? How will it communicate during a crisis? How does a company balance growth with retaining its core consumer base?

News leaked Wednesday that Facebook had called an internal meeting on the issue. And, the company posted a blog on Thursday afternoon about new tools and systems that ensure a user's account and personal information is secure.

Given the number of Facebook users – a number that is still growing – it's difficult to weigh the outcome of user concerns and whether a significant number of users will leave the site. Yet as Facebook matures, its communications should as well.

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