Internet Security News & Views

Has Facebook run its Course? Are problems within the social media platform too big to overcome?

Is Facebook Still Relevant Today?

Facebook was once the top dog of social media platforms and could seemingly do no wrong. That is, until it did. With issues surrounding privacy, security and controversy plus the fact that competition is hot on its heels in the form of the Google+, is Facebook still relevant to both business users and individuals? Does it still have the trust and loyalty of its members or are people hitting the ‘Unlike’ button on Facebook?

Facebook Facts

Facebook was launched in February 2004 and got off to a controversial start when the founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was sued by 3 of his former University colleagues over claims that he stole their ideas for the site. The matter was settled in court with a million dollar payoff. The drama was subsequently made into a film in 2010 called The Social Network.

The site spread from Harvard University to almost all Universities in the US and Canada and eventually in 2006 Facebook was extended to everyone aged 13 or older.

In August 2008, just under a year since it was made available to everyone, Facebook had attracted 100,000 users and eventually hit the 1 billion mark in October 2012, however in December of that year, UK users for Facebook actually dropped by 600,000 according to monitoring firm SocialBakers so could the bubble finally be set to burst?

How Useful is Facebook for Businesses?

Facebook was originally set up for individuals to share information with friends but that soon expanded and businesses realised the true potential of reaching out to a network of millions of prospective customers.

Business users can create pages on Facebook and promote their posts in order to build up a following. Facebook also uses data to help generate targeted ads. Businesses can encourage people to follow their page and share their posts and it is a useful way for companies to reach out to their intended audience.

However businesses beware – there have been some epic company Facebook fails due to bad management of their Facebook page. The biggest failure was by Nestle when they innocently requested that fans do not use any altered Nestle logos as their profile pics. What ensued was a playground spat between Nestle and hundreds of followers which did not do the company’s credentials much good at all.

More common are disasters featuring companies who do not respond to customers’ complaints such as the Nature Valley Facebook page. When someone asked if they used GM crops in their ingredients, Nature Valley refused to respond. There was no evidence to say that they did but their failure to respond to that and subsequent comments caused chaos on their page and quickly turned viral.

The power of social media such as Facebook is not to be underestimated.

New Facebook Features

In order to keep the website updated and relevant, Facebook has rolled out several new features recently. In 2010 a brand new timeline profile was introduced with gives basic information about you such as where you are from, where you work, your relationship status, etc along with a row of the most recently tagged photos of you.

Friends can now also be listed in groups such as family members, work colleagues, sports teams and so on.

Perhaps Facebook is taking note of popular sites such as Pinterest and Vimeo as the news stream and timeline feeds are now more visually orientated with larger photos and expanded snippets from texts. And in response to a call for better news feeds, Mark Zuckerberg used the phrase “personalised newspaper” to describe the new look site.

A brand new feature called Graph Search will also enable users to search their friends’ feeds, so if you wanted to see school photos of your friends you just type it into the new search feature and all the old school photos of your friends will come up! You will only see information which has been made publicly available however, private photos will stay private.

Facebook Privacy Issues and Security Concerns

Facebook has had its share of privacy issues and the new Graph Search tool mentioned above is the latest concern. Critics say it could be used to discover compromising information about members such as political groups or religious affinities. Facebook have reminded people about checking their privacy settings but this is one of the main concerns about the new feature.  If you are a business whose employees use Facebook and join a controversial political or religious group then this information could potentially spell trouble for your company.

In 2011 around 200,000 profiles were reportedly hacked and their news fees and profile pictures were replaced with pornographic images and sexual content. Facebook denied the claims.

In January 2013 it was discovered that over 16000 Facebook credentials had been stolen by a botnet.  The ‘PokerAgent’ botnet was apparently designed to collect Facebook log-on credentials, also gathering information on credit card details linked to the Facebook account and in particular Zynga Poker player stats, presumably with the intention to rob the victims.

Other areas of concern centre around phishing scams and malicious links which trick users into downloading potentially harmful viruses.  (Look out for Part II; we will cover this separately, as the topic is so big. Meanwhile, have a look at earlier blogs about this here)

As critics point to the loss of users’ rights to vote on policy along with a possible saturation of the market and the drop in member numbers in the UK, could Facebook be falling out of favour with its users? Well it certainly has to watch its back because waiting quietly in the wings is the increasingly popular Google+.

To Sum up

In summary, Facebook is a victim of both its own success and its need to make money through advertising.  The platform has enjoyed phenomenal growth, but it now looks like the growth is slowing.  Although Facebook can reach users with highly targeted ads, it is uncertain how much effect they have, other than annoying the users they try to entice – the ads are intrusive and take up too much of prime space on the pages.   The question is: how much do Facebook users really want to engage with advertisers on a medium they have chosen to engage with friends and family?  There is a price to pay for enjoying the fun and social features of Facebook, but is it too big?

The biggest concern though is security.  Amid hacking concerns and recent security breaches, the far most annoying risk to the users is that Facebook as a platform has been unable or unwilling to tackle the problems of virus and worms that spread on the site like wildfire. There is not much they can do to stop email phishing scams, and fake emails posing as official notifications. Facebook has a help center where you can look up information about scams and fake notifications, but it is sadly lacking and cumbersome to use.  User must look elsewhere for detailed information about what to do or how to spot fake emails.

With Google + gaining in popularity, it would be advisable for Facebook to start looking into how to solve issues that affect  their users’ enjoyment of the site, rather than only trying appease the shareholders.  When Facebook users start closing their accounts, they will have more to worry about than just how to make money from advertising, there will be fewer users to advertise to!

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