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The New Privacy Wars

All great icons, particularly entrepreneurial ones, eventually become figures of distrust at some point. It happened to eBay some years ago when they changed the rules for sellers and suffered a major backlash from them. It seems to be happening to Google and Facebook now over privacy issues. And it happened to Apple recently over the heavy-handedness over the leaked new iPhone.

There is an old episode of the West Wing, where they are discussing a new Supreme Court Justice and one of the characters commented that privacy would be the main area of debate and concern in the early part of what was then the new century. And that was before 9/11. More and more people are growing concerned about privacy and the acess to information that technology providers may have on them.

Google’s tag of ‘not evil’ seems to be slipping when it became known that their street view cars had been picking up information from open WiFi systems as they went around. But probably the biggest scandal has been Facebook. For the first time there are rumblings about people leaving the king of Social Networking spaces. Many commentators felt that with their almost dominance of the market, and the switching ‘costs’ of customers crossing to a competitor, that Facebook was in pole position. But cracks in their invincibility are appearing now. Ironic if Facebook loses its market dominance not because of competition but because of Facebook itself!

Recently the spotlight from Washington has been on them, with the possibility of a Congressional hearing relating to their privacy policies. The fact is that companies like Google and Facebook really want our personal information as it helps them sell advertising. Anyone who uses Gmail for example will know this. The pressure for Facebook to follow in Google’s footsteps and build an advertising empire must be severe. Any future potential to float the company will be dependent on it.

It is possibly the hubris and arrogance of the reaction to some of these issues that are upsetting people the most. The internet allows people to share not only music, photos and ideas – it also allows them to be upset together. And the Web 2.0 companies would do well to remember that.

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