Sunday 18 March 2018

Facebook under fire from Friends Reunited chief

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Getty Images
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Getty Images

Emma Barnett

Chris van der Kuyl, chief executive of Brightsolid, the parent company of Friends Reunited, has criticised Facebook’s complicated privacy settings and called for social networks to improve their protection of people’s personal data.

Talking to The Telegraph, van der Kuyl, said: “The next generation of social networks need to make their privacy settings simpler.

Facebook’s privacy settings are too complicated and people are still not sure what is going into the public domain or not…Facebook started out as a classroom product and has added so much to its service that its privacy settings have become too complicated.”

He added: “It is not in Facebook’s or other social networks’ interest for people to be able to completely lock down their data as these businesses wouldn't be able to monetise their social graph…I am never going to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg [Facebook’s founder and chief executive] but he is now in the position with Facebook users where if he gives them more control over their data, he will lose out cash-wise as he wont be able to serve highly targeted adverts.”

In May 2010 Facebook simplified its privacy settings, responding to demands from the Facebook community.

However, van der Kuyl, doesn’t think the company went far enough and aims to ensure the relaunched Friends Reunited, set for a major facelift in early 2011, focuses on offering its user base total privacy.

Earlier this week Facebook launched some new profile page features, allowing users to feature their most important friends, list more details about themselves and show off photos better.

UK advertising executives said that the move was another way to get people to load more personal data into the Facebook system so it could serve more targeted adverts.

A Facebook spokesman said: “The changes to the top of the profile, to include more information such as bio and photos, were not in any way geared towards improving our advertising proposition but about creating more social and personalised experiences for the people that use Facebook.”

Van der Kuyl responded: “We [Friends Reunited] are lucky as we are not coming from the same position as the likes of Facebook. We plan on putting privacy front and centre of our service and offer a more controlled experience than the anarchy offered by social networks at the moment.”

Brightsolid, which also owns genealogy website and is a subsidiary company of the Beano publisher, DC Thomson, bought Friends Reunited, as well as Friends Reunited Dating and Genes Reunited, from ITV last year for a bargain price of £25m (€29.7m), after the broadcaster paid £175m (€208m) in 2005.

Friends Reunited, the UK’s first extremely popular social network, founded more than 10 years ago, had more than 20 million users, in its 2003 heyday. It now attracts just two million unique visitors a month.

Once the darling of the UK social networking scene, Friends Reunited has recently been described by one analyst as "just a footnote in the history of social networking".

Ahead of its major facelift, which van der Kuyl says is coming in 2011, Brightsolid commissioned an independent report to assess the state of social networking.

Global Futures and Foresight’s major findings included the consumer demand for simplified privacy controls across networks such as Facebook, but also a need for greater protection of people’s personal data being uploaded in its droves to essentially public sites.

The report said: “As we share more of our lives online there is a huge challenge to digitally store this personal information for future generations.

"The success, or failure, of individual social networking sites will rest on their ability not just to serve the here and now but, to store and protect memories and to enable users to move as freely through the past as the present.

Van der Kuyl said: “There is a danger that precious memories will be lost forever if we do not take steps to protect our personal history. Today’s social networks are anarchic and have not been built for the long term.

"That’s fine if people are living in the moment but there comes a point when an event transcends from the here and now into something they may want to look back on. We need to protect our data for longevity or we’re in real danger of becoming the lost generation. “

He explained that doing a better job at archiving people’s activities would also be a major feature of the new Friends Reunited, learning lessons from its experiences in the online genealogy business.

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