You bet, Mr Stamos. You bet. But we’re left wondering if your former boss Mark Zuckerberg is among them. And with the investors reeling following Facebook’s remarkable dip in market value, is time running out to rebuild Facebook’s reputation?
The official response from Facebook following Alex Stamos’ departure as Chief Security Officer was this: “We are investing heavily in security to address new types of threats for the people who use our services. Earlier this year we embedded our security engineers, analysts, investigators, and other specialists in the heart of our product and engineering teams”.
In English, it seems to translate as “putting people closer to where the action is”. But did Facebook really not have people on product teams who had anything to do with security before? That’s the implication, and it does point to the need for some fairly major reforms if Facebook is ever going to be anything other than a tech giant in terminal decline.
Addressing its large scale failings so far, the feeling I get from Facebook is “so far, so corporate”. There’s been the tour of the political leaders, all thoroughly scripted and very rehearsed. There’s been the ad campaign (“fake news is not our friend”. Yup, we see what you did there).
This time though, the money is talking, and it’s saying rather stridently that the investors aren’t happy. What might help turn things around? In my view, four big, brave initiatives, which may just be make or break, but which would definitely get to the heart of the matter:
Open regulation: Rather than wait for the regulators to spend the next two years drafting something draconian, I think Facebook should use its scale, reach and considerable engineering and design talent to get there first. Why not collaborate directly with policy experts and draft a new code of conduct in a very public, and open way? Before others start to follow Germany’s example on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis, something like this is bound to be more enlightened, inclusive, and way-finding.
Open governance: Facebook has a dangerous concentration of power in one individual. I think the social network should consider a model which devolves much more power to local country level first, then even types of user group, secondly. Imagine a means of decision making and prioritisation which involved the actual user. Imagine a token-backed governance forum where the real users make an investment in the company, however nominal in real terms. Civil is doing it for journalism; it would be extremely powerful at a corporate level, and would show the way for a new form of digital-first corporate governance.
Open decisions: We’ve gone beyond privacy settings now. These fundamentally miss the point of the data exchange between users, platforms and other commercial entities. What we need is real transparency: what goes where, why, how, and for what gain? Why not provide the open means for users to both understand why and how their data is used, and even enable a form of personal data economy where Facebook’s users could benefit directly?
Open capitalism: Facebook needs to decide whose side it’s on - its users’ or the companies it provides user data to? And a clear choice means a clear commercial consequence: some investors will get cold feet. But that’s a small price to pay for the “right kind of capitalism”.
These are some perspectives. And probably wildly optimistic ones at that, but something big will need to change, and quickly. Otherwise the exodus of users, or at least the quiet slide of engagement levels in developed economies is just the beginning.