The Facebook legal notice meme is hilarious and scary (for Facebook)

By Erin Griffith , written on November 26, 2012

From The News Desk

If you have more than a small handful friends on Facebook, you've likely seen some variety of a legal notice in status updates over the weekend. The basic idea of it is that because Facebook is now a publicly-traded entity, the service owns your data and can use it however it wants. But if you share a certain fancily worded status update, the contents of your profile will be "private and legally privileged and confidential information." A violation of your personal privacy is punishable by law. You're on notice, Facebook!

I am going to assume PandoDaily's astute readers would never fall for such a gag, so I won't bother explaining how absurd it is. (Snopes has a nice explanation if needed.) Perhaps it's a clever ruse by Nigerian princes to suss out which users are more likely to fall for more sinister online scams. Mostly it's just succeeded in making people look paranoid.

Which I think tells us a lot about the Facebook's privacy problem. Namely, that it's still a big problem.

That should alarm the company, especially as it ends the practice of letting users vote on changes to the privacy settings. But privacy is not a problem if you ask CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook, with its stated goal of "making the world more open and connected," has long been associated with privacy outrages and scandals. The mere mention of the word "privacy" in conversation with any Facebook exec or PR gets a bristly response.

But Zuckerberg is over it. He's said, basically, that the age of privacy is ending. From ReadWrite:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.
He's arguing that the privacy outrages are waning. And he is tired of us asking him about it.

For the youngest users, he's correct. Having grown up using the Internet as a way to express themselves since the moment they first accessed it, younger generations of Web surfers have no concept of privacy, nor are they particularly concerned with it. In a Forrester study, more than half of 18- to 34-year-olds were perfectly okay with trading data about themselves in exchange for discounts, a figure that "declined precipitously" with older users, All Things D reported.

But older users who make up the bulk of Facebook's users base are not. Those of us who are Zuckerberg's age, having joined Facebook when it was still just for college students, are still paranoid about having control over those 2005-era photos. So much so that the more confused among us think a legalese status update will give us that control. The problem is especially acute for Facebook with its new Gifts initiative -- the company needs older users (ie, the ones with money) to trust it enough to enter their credit card numbers when sending gifts.

What's worse, younger users who don't care about keeping their info private are not as active on Facebook. An Experian Hitwise study from earlier this year shows that Facebook's two largest age groups are 25 to 34 years old and over 55. I spoke to one Fortune 500 marketer who said Facebook is a great tool for interacting with his brands; but the precious 18- to 24-year-olds he's most interested in reaching aren't on Facebook -- they're on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

No matter how connected Facebook makes the world, the "open" part of its goal will never be so simple, especially when most of its users want the service to be anything but. The resurgence of this meme (started initially around the time of Facebook's IPO) shows that users will always have nagging insecurity over what they share with Facebook. For a company that needs trust to keep the largest swath of its users happy, that's a big problem.