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Rise of the social generation

It's been one rough week for social networking phenomenon Facebook.Two weeks after it revised the site's terms of service regarding user content, the company on Wednesday reverted back to its previous policy, bowing to harsh criticisms that the amended terms had violated user privacy.

It's been one rough week for social networking phenomenon Facebook.

Two weeks after it revised the site's terms of service regarding user content, the company on Wednesday reverted back to its previous policy, bowing to harsh criticisms that the amended terms had violated user privacy.

The revised policy was deemed to award Facebook perpetual rights to content uploaded by its users, including the company's right to retain archived copies of user content.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had explained in his blog post that the modified policy would have provided the necessary license for the site to allow its users to share information.

It's not the first time the company had caved in to user feedback and backtracked on its business decisions. Back in 2007, Zuckerberg apologized for its controversial Beacon advertising tool, which was deemed to violate user privacy, and added an opt-out button to appease irate users.

Assuming Facebook's intentions are as Zuckerberg says they are, that the new terms of service would have more clearly reflected how the site manages data so that it can be shared among users, then the company has decided to back down from what seems to be a legitimate business decision.

Facebook is unique--it's a business entity that has shown it's actually willing to listen to its users. Not every company subscribes to that philosophy, unless it decides it makes sense to.

It's perhaps also a business that recognizes the importance of its 175 million "customers", without whom, Facebook would probably be unable to attract a slew of advertisers to its site.

And it's perhaps this fear of losing the very core of its commercial appeal--its lucrative but volatile bait--that has given rise to an influential social Net generation.

Unfortunately, that could sometimes carry adverse implications for businesses like Facebook, that are heavily reliant on the "social inclination" of its users to create a market that's attractive to advertisers.

While it's great that organizations like Facebook, are listening and reacting so promptly to user (read: customer) feedback, doing so even when it goes against their business sense can be potentially harmful to the company in the long run.

As this week's state of affairs have demonstrated, Facebook may have had purely legitimate business reasons to amend its service policy, but felt inclined to reverse its decision due to the impassioned feedback--feedback that, while severe, may not always reflect general user sentiments. If we really think about it, even with 110,000 members, the protest group rallying against Facebook's new terms of service represents just 0.06 percent of the site's 175 million active user base.

Besides, it's somewhat ironic to demand privacy when you're a willing participant of an online community that thrives on sharing personal data. Anyone who feels strongly about how Facebook is invading their privacy can always choose to stop patronizing the site, or refrain from volunteering personal information that they don't want the site to reuse.

And doesn't it then mean protest groups should also be lobbying against HR personnel and recruiters for checking out a candidate's personal background and behavior on Facebook?