The Facebook developers' conference, F8, opened yesterday with some conflicting news. A new privacy feature on one hand. A dating app, more tools for businesses to use Messenger, greater third-party app integration with Instagram, and the availability of the Oculus augmented reality (AR) headset -- all of which mean more personal information collection -- on the other.
Facebook is a company trying to make money in a real world and its business model is both strength and weakness. No matter how the company tires to apologize and calm public anger, it has to look for more personal data. Otherwise, why would any advertiser pay it money?
But these are just the latest privacy debacles the company has faced. Those go back to at least 2007, when Facebook's Beacon program began spilling details of what people had purchased, often without permission. It set off what may have been first apology or explanation letter.
In 2011, there was the settlement with the FTC over charges that Facebook "deceived consumers by failing to keep privacy promises, when third-party apps could get more user data than they needed. Two years later, millions found their private contact information exposed. In 2014, there were the mood-manipulation experiments to see how emotions spread on social media. By 2015, Facebook finally started to restrict apps from grabbing user data. This year, there was the Belgian court order to stop tracking people wherever they went on the internet.
The last is telling, because Facebook's reaction was to appeal the decision. It wants the data. The new dating app? Beyond Zuckerberg's statement that it is for "building real, long-term relationships, not just hookups," a Morningstar analyst expected it to offer opportunities for new ad revenues.
The same will be true for the AR headset. New possibilities to interact with others through a computer, of course. Added potential for advertisers and the accumulation of new types of behavioral information, as well.
What does anyone expect? Whatever Zuckerberg or others at Facebook talk of a mission more important than making money, they avoid saying one crucial thing: Without the do re mi, there is no song of a greater mission. Zuckerberg has a lock on shareholder votes, but so did Travis Kalanick at Uber, and he still got booted as CEO. If you make enough big investors feel that their money is threatened, they will find a way to stop you.
Facebook may offer tools to let people clear from their accounts which websites they visited and apps they used. But that doesn't necessarily mean the company won't track what you like, do, and say on Facebook itself. How could it afford to give the information up? That's why advertisers pay it.
Privacy advocates might find much of this appalling, but, really, what else could anyone expect? Just like so many other businesses and industries, Facebook and high tech in general depend on learning as much as they can about you. If they give up in some areas, you can bet it's a calculated tradeoff to avoid the request to walk away from information that is more valuable.
When a company says that it wants to secure your privacy but still wants to peer over your shoulder at your love life, you can bet the desire to pry is still alive and well. The ongoing business depends on it.