Mark Zuckerberg has never been known for his deft handling of privacy issues. Starting from before his Facebook days, when he hacked into the internal database at Harvard University to obtain personal information of students, through Facebook’s near-constant loosening of its privacy policies, Zuckerberg has often been on the firing line.
Each iteration of Facebook is met with user protests and a slew of privacy concerns. The latest version of Facebook features the most blatant disregard for user privacy, having changed default settings that make information that was previously private, public. In fact, the new Facebook seems to make some information – such as new friendships – public even if users explicitly state that they did not want that information public.
But now, it’s Zuckerberg that is being forced to open up as Facebook prepares for its initial public offering. Ironically, reports have noted that Zuckerberg seems “reluctant” to put a portion of Facebook up for sale to public investors. The decision was not in his hands. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires companies with more than 500 shareholders to begin filing reports with the SEC. These reports include audited financial information. Facebook’s shareholders increased right along with their users and they’re now nearly over that 500 investor threshold. Once they hit that mark, they have 4 months to disclose a laundry list of confidential business facts and figures.
Facebook is rumored to be offering about $10 billion of their $75-$100 billion valuation up for trade. Depending on the percentage of the company which will be offered, Facebook is looking at $5B – $10 billion in shareholder dollars. That’s a nice little consolation prize for giving up a privacy setting.
Of course, the IPO isn’t the end of the privacy saga. One of Facebook’s biggest assets as a public company will be its enormous stockpile of personal information, which is at the heart of Facebook’s revenue model. Will users need to stay vigilant about privacy concerns and who gets to see what with all of that personal information?
Additionally, with that large of an amount of spare change, will Facebook begin acquiring other platforms such as Instagram? Will they go mobile? With additional, public, shareholder pressure, will Facebook begin beefing up its ad platform? If so, this will affect the simplistic interface that drew so many users to Facebook in the first place.
Unfortunately, Zuckerberg remains as secretive as ever when it comes to the privacy settings on his innovation plans (More mobile? International dominance? Acquisitions?). These questions are unanswered now. But – as the IPO process begins – they may not be private much longer.