If Facebook were looking for further ways to undermine user and (by implication) investor confidence, it is on a roll.
The big story has been their switching 900 million default emails to their own system; with an adjunct (and even nastier) effect in some phones of changing contact lists also. This latter is put down to a bug that is being fixed, though the fact remains that scads of emails will have ended up in Facebook mailboxes rather than where they were intended to go.
There are two other stories floating around. One is that Facebook staff have what has been referred to as a private (anti-) stalking capacity, so they know who checks their own pages. Another is that Facebook has created bogus Facebook pages for non-users.
The basic email switching issue, unlike various others, is not a “privacy” issue. Much of the discussion around Facebook’s approach to its users has centered on what are seen by some as competing ideas of privacy. This decision suggests an overbearing disregard of consumer choice, and, back of that, a failure of judgment and governance. These failures, which become more egregious all the time, are illustrated by the privacy concerns. But they are more fundamental, and now that Facebook is a public company are revealing flaws that need to be taken seriously by the market as well as users.
It seems to me there are, at root, two.
1. Facebook’s governance culture, and the structure which in the post-IPO situation has grown out of it, are distinctive and would much better fit the “old economy” companies that flourished in the 20th century than one prepared for the 21st. Not to go over old ground: The board’s lack of diversity is well recognized (adding one woman has been good but is a marginal shift since she is is an exec who reports to Zuckerberg). And the shareholder governance structure gives Zuckerberg supreme command, in a model reflected most publicly in current business by Rupert Murdoch’s family control of News Corp. It may be a good model for some companies; that is not my point. But no-one would argue that it represents the cutting-edge of governance designed to navigate the Moore’s-Law-driven rapids facing a digital behemoth in the 21st century.
2. There is a dramatic discontinuity between Facebook’s de facto emergence as the world’s major social network, and governance structures that would seem to be utterly unaffected by any interest in, well, “social.” One could mount a more radical argument and suggest that social networks will best be governed using models of shared, stakeholder governance, that will require distinctive corporate and financing structures – either reflecting mutualization or the non-profit status of Wikipedia; or developing innovative models that are both for-profit and multi-stakeholder in nature.
Point here is more limited. Just as the most visionary companies around are slowly learning now to use social engagement to align values and decisions with their customers, the leading social platform doesn’t seem to give a fig for what they think about their own email access.
All of which suggests to me that, qua company, Facebook is aging fast.
Is Facebook Doomed?