Last night, Facebook announced that it would temporarily remove the ability for developers to request home addresses as well as phone numbers from users, signaling a new policy in responding to public criticism. The company’s next steps will prove most critical. Here are our suggestions for how to handle them.
Educate The Users
Online identity authentication is not an easy topic to discuss. Facebook has worked hard to make its products as easy to use as possible and that includes the authentication process, the most important component of registering for any new application or website. While Facebook had previously announced such functionality as part of the Facebook Connect launch and subsequent blog updates, it has been a while since users were updated on the progress of the company’s identity authentication services.
We’d recommend that the company further educate the users about the issues pertaining to online identity authentication, including the privacy issues in transparent language (avoid jargon like “Open Graph” and “Graph API”).
Modify The Authentication Form
The existing authentication form could result with home address and phone number being pushed below other items, resulting in the user missing the fact that important personal data in being revealed. Putting this item front and center and possibly making it stand out in a subtle yet obvious way should suffice. In the screenshot below, I’ve simply highlighted the important information in yellow; however, I’m sure Facebook’s design team can come up with a more elegant solution. The key is to make sure this piece of information stands out from other data.
One thing the company doesn’t need to do, however, is place words such as “warning” or “alert” in the form. Shocking the user into believing that the application is dangerous will not help. Facebook is honestly providing value to users with Connect, but the authentication window needs to be perfectly clear in articulating what the user is sharing. Since Facebook is training users with a new type of behavior, there is a delicate balance between making the authentication process easy touse while simultaneously clear in its communication.
Continue With Open Communication
The last step is simply to continue with an open communication strategy. We honestly believe that users will support the use of an authentication tool (as 250 million users have already done so), but the media and informed users want Facebook to be open about its intentions. This does not mean communicating all potential future uses of user data. Instead it simply means reaching out to users on a regular basis to communicate the sought change in behavior rather than forcing people to adopt it without clear disclosure of their intent.
While this last request may be a bit of a stretch given the company’s past behavior, there has never been a better time to start a new, more open, communications policy. As the company moves toward an eventual initial public offering, it’s a good time for Facebook to begin practicing a little more transparency.