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Facebook Facing Trouble

14 June 2011 by Jenn Granger

Is Facebook feeling the consequences of ignoring users privacy concerns?

Yesterday, stories were rife across the internet about Facebook losing users in the US, UK, Canada, Norway and Russia. According to data gathered by the site Inside Facebook, in the US, the site lost about 6 million users in May from 155.2 million at the start of the month to 149.4 at the end. In the UK, aver 100,000 users were lost over the same period.

The data was gathered using the Facebook advertiser tool, not from any stats officially released by Facebook. This means it could have been affected by bugs, system updates etc, making the data unreliable. Facebook this morning released a statement saying:

From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions. Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn’t designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook. We are very pleased with our growth and with the way people are engaged with Facebook. More than 50% of our active users log on to Facebook on any given day.”

It is worth noting that while people were focussing on the loss of users in certain locations, overall Facebook is still growing and at a good rate – about 11.9 million new members in May.

What I found interesting is how many sites jumped on the story without really questioning the validity of the data. When a company is as huge and seemingly unstoppable like Facebook, journalists and bloggers know that negative stories will drive a lot of interest so it makes sense to publish without too many questions. I also believe that the lack of questioning is in part because Facebook’s recent behaviour deserved to be punished.

Earlier this month Facebook rolled out a new feature to its photo tagging service. They have used a facial recognition program to suggest to you who to tag in a photo. In typical Facebook style, this was opt out. A lot of people were understandably angry about privacy concerns and a few days after the feature went live Facebook apologised. However, it was not the first time they have apologised for not taking its users privacy seriously enough, making this latest apology a little hollow.

II heard a teacher once say, “If you were truly sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place”. Whether the stats are accurate or not, Facebook have to wake up and realise they are not infallible.