Why is Facebook such a repeatedly bad actor in its relationship to its users, constantly testing and probing for ways to quietly or secretly breach the privacy constraints that most of its users expect and demand, strategems to invade their carefully maintained social networks? Because it has to. That’s Facebook’s version of the Red Queen’s race, its bargain with investment capital. Facebook will keep coming back and back again with various schemes and interface trickery because if it stops, it will be the LiveJournal or BBS of 2020, a trivia answer and nostalgic memory.
That is not the inevitable fate of all social media. It is a distinctive consequence of the intersection of massive slops of surplus investment capital looking desperately for somewhere to come to rest; the character of Facebook’s niche in the ecology of social media; and the path-dependent evolution of Facebook’s interface.
Analysts and observers who are content with cliches characterize Facebook as sitting on a treasure trove of potentially valuable data about its users, which is true enough. The cliched view is that what’s valuable about that data is names associated with locations associated with jobs associated with social networks, in a very granular way. That’s not it.