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Why Facebook Fiercely Protects The Privacy Of One Group–Facebook Stalkers

Whether you looked up someone you wanted to meet, perused the pages of an old friend or foe from high school, or spied on the kids, everyone has likely Facebook-stalked at one time or another. And Facebook protects us while doing so, allowing us to stalk in anonymity. I’ll bet it’s a feature you may not have thought about but would really miss if it went away. Here’s why it never will.

In the classic movie The Princess Bride, the villain Vizzini states there are two classic blunders we all should avoid: Never get involved in a land war in Asia; and never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line. If we were to add a third for modern times, it might be “never trust Facebook with your privacy.”

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That’s why the U.S. Federal Trade Commission just reached an agreement with Facebook that mandates Facebook protect user privacy. The agreement also subjects Facebook to audits on privacy by the Feds for the next two decades. In response, Mark Zuckerberg admitted the company had made mistakes in handling user privacy and he listed a number of actions the company will take to protect user privacy going forward.

So privacy has been a problem for the fast-growing company. But, if you think about it, there’s one type of user whose privacy has always been protected by the company as well as the ancient Greek underworld was guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus. And you likely fall in that group.

Who am I talking about? Facebook stalkers, of course. Unlike LinkedIn, which allows you to see who has looked at your profile, Facebook has never allowed users to see who has come and checked out their info, photos, etc.

Now, I’d bet that pretty much everyone reading this blog who has been on Facebook has done the Facebook Stalk at least once. Whether you looked up someone you wanted to meet, seen someone a friend knows and checked them out, perused the pages of an old friend or foe from high school, or spied on the kids, everyone has likely done it at one time or another. And Facebook protects us while doing so, allowing us to stalk in anonymity. I’ll bet it’s a feature you may not have thought about but would really miss if it went away.

Why will it never be eliminated? Think for a minute about how Facebook started. Its predecessor was “Facemash,” which allowed guys to look at the pictures of Harvard women and rank their attractiveness from the anonymity of their personal computer. So will privacy for the Facebook Stalker ever go the way of the Dodo bird? Don’t count on it. Protecting the Stalker is in Facebook’s DNA.

Besides knowing you likely will always be able to do the Facebook Stalk unseen, what can we learn from this practice from a business standpoint?  It’s simple: Know what features of your product or service are truly important to your customers and are key to your success. Then make sure you never mess that up.

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[Image: Flickr user jesse757]

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About the author

Mark is the author of three books (including the popular Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Principles for Managers) and a Lecturer at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Prior to that Mark was a marketing executive with experience at IBM and Lenovo

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