Facebook, Bebo Top UK Privacy Rankings

With all the buzz about Facebook’s ongoing privacy gaffes (I’ve been one of many voices calling attention to them), TechCrunch UK covers another perspective that’s more accurate in terms of how consumers perceive it:

…A new UK report has named both Facebook and Bebo the best social networks for features like privacy and security, including how easy it is to remove personal details.
Independent consumer advocate Computing Which? found Bebo and
Facebook scored 79% and 74% respectively for their features, and were
rated easier to use than MySpace (not hard) and best for socialising.

This report touches on the general consumer experience with the sites, and it touches on factors that I wrote about in my PB-era (pre-Beacon) column about Facebook opening up profiles to search engines. I wrote back in September:

Facebook sets the standard for user privacy controls.
While it’s fun to write about controversy, such as the idea that
Facebook users will rebel against the site’s newfound search engine
optimization, the press has hardly covered the many privacy controls
Facebook has in place.

First, Facebook members can control who can find their profiles
within the site – friends, people in shared networks, or everyone. Only
if “everyone” is selected will Facebook provide members with the option
of allowing others to see their public search listings. If that option
is checked, members can then allow public listings to be indexed by
search engines. If you’re on Facebook, this is all available under the
Privacy Settings for Search; if you’re not, you can find screen shots on my blog.

Now, if I wrote that column today, I’d still espouse a similar angle specifically to the privacy controls relating to search engines crawling profiles. If anything, the dust-up Facebook recently had with Robert Scoble and Plaxo shows that Facebook does take privacy seriously.

But, there are many faces to Facebook, and given the darkness enveloping Beacon and Social Ads, Facebook needs to offer consumers who fan marketers’ Pages the same controls it offers for search privacy. Until that happens, I’m not letting the issue drop. But I’m also in favor of giving Facebook credit for what it does right.

TechCrunch UK’s Mike Butcher (who I once had the pleasure of blogging with in a previous iteration of nowEurope) offered his own dose of gravitas:

This survey is a useful reality check. Most mainstream, non-geek, users
of sites like Facebook could not give one jot about ‘data portability’
and have never heard of Robert Scoble, especially in the UK. That’s why
I wrote that the Scoble incident would be a big issue, in the tech industry – not the mainstream.

The Beacon issues are more mainstream, as they affect everyone, and perhaps they’ll merit more of a mainstream outcry. Both the press and consumers are funny though – it’s often hard to predict exactly what will set them off. Facebook would gain FAR more negative attention from members if it ever suspended the popular FunWall or SuperPoke applications for whatever reason than if it sold its users’ email addresses to the highest bidder (something Facebook is not being accused of – that’s a hypothetical).

And this then ties into one of many debates in the 75+ comments on the initial post about Facebook’s advertising abuses about whether change is best fomented by insiders or outsiders, a debate I’ll leave others to ponder more in comments here or there.