Gareth Jones: Facebook risks losing faithful
Gareth Jones: Facebook risks losing faithful
A view from Gareth Jones

Editor's comment: Facebook risks losing faithful

Mark Zuckerberg might appear to be more affable geek than evil genius, but the Facebook founder's masterplan to seize control of the web would make even the dastardliest Bond villain proud.

The social networking site, founded just six years ago, has leapfrogged Yahoo! to become the biggest publisher of display ads, serving 176.3bn banners to US users in the first quarter of 2010.

This is just the beginning for 26-year-old Zuckerberg, who has grown Facebook's active user base to more than 400m worldwide. He has his sights set on ousting Google and establishing Facebook at the centre of the online experience for users and the advertisers vying to reach them.

In the past month alone, the social network has rolled out various commercial features including its 'Like' button, enabling users to share third-party content, and location-based status updates.

Zuckerberg's plan hinges on selling user information to brands so they can target customers with relevant ads. Until now, this has gone largely unnoticed, but recent changes to Facebook's privacy policy are causing widespread outrage.

As we explain on page 6, tweaks to Facebook's terms and conditions mean that unless users opt out, their personal details will be made available to more than just other social networkers. Understandably, users aren't too keen to share their birthdays, religious views and family details with all and sundry - never mind those party photos.

Despite attempts to play down the backlash from bloggers, journalists and the European Commission, the emergency meeting held at Facebook's San Francisco HQ gives a clear indication of the severity of the problem.

Calls for users to commit 'Facebook suicide' threaten to undermine public trust in the site. Unless Zuckerberg nips the problem in the bud, his scheme for web domination could be foiled.