What’ll happen to our data after Facebook jumps the shark?

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Facebook has, very recently, made it possible to delete accounts instead of just deactivating them. Deleting the account is the only option to really make Facebook let go of your personal information, and until recently this was notoriously hard to accomplish.

Facebook has pretty decent privacy features, or at least privacy control features, as online social networks go. What’s laid out in the terms of service is a different story, though, as users (including me, of course) agree to somewhat ridiculously liberal terms of service. This includes, although it isn’t limited, to allowing Facebook to sell, license, and distribute all the content users provide, as well as fairly generous data-mining, like the following:

“We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services, Facebook Platform developers and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile.”

But Facebook keeps finding itself in a dilemma between marketing, privacy, between business and user interest, as Sarah Zhang asks on Harvard’s (great!) Digital Natives blog.:

A few months ago, when Beacon was making its debut, I had the opportunity to sit in a guest lecture by Chris Kelly, the chief privacy officer of Facebook. He spoke a lot on the need to balance business decisions with PR, which the company, given its success, has done quite well. I’m inclined to believe it won’t have this type of popularity forever though. So at point will users become disenchanted with Facebook? But will this be a matter of privacy or convenience? Will Facebook have permanently changed our conceptions of privacy by then?

First of all, I would second Sarah’s guess that Facebook and its social network siblings definitively have changed (and continue to do so) our notion of privacy. If this is good or bad I don’t want to even try to judge in this post.

But second, and this really scares me: When users get disenchanted with Facebook – which is inevitable at some point, given that Facebook is an online service and not built to last forever – will they try to make up for their financial losses by selling all the data? After all, with its current popularity, Facebook has all reason not to annoy its users too much, but to do what the majority wishes. But after the service has jumped the shark, it won’t have anything to lose. In whose hands, then, will our information end up?

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