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Facebook Looking to Beef Up Washington Presence



Just the title of the post alone should be enough to know that Facebook realizes that privacy will be the biggest issue that could get in the way of its continued success. What better way to manage this kind of concern than to hire people who can con, errrr, convince lawmakers and legislators that Facebook should get a pass on these concerns. Off to Washington DC!

You can’t blame them since this is how Washington operates. The highest bidder gets the legislation in most cases so it only makes sense to play the game as well. If you think I am being cynical here then you just need to wake up and smell the coffee. Washington works on money and salesmanship at the end of the day. I am not saying it’s right and, in fact, I hate that it is the way of the Beltway but it just is.

Bloomberg reports on Facebook’s moves to sure up this area.

Facebook Inc. is expanding its Washington office and consulting with privacy advocates as lawmakers question how well the world’s largest social- networking site protects the personal information of users.

The company is looking for a public-policy expert and a deputy press spokesman, following the June hiring of Marne Levine to head its Washington office. Levine is a former top aide to Larry Summers, director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. The new hires would bring Facebook’s Washington team to eight, up from zero three years ago.

Facebook has an incredibly bright future but the talk is that privacy could be the think that could put a few clouds on the horizon.

“A lot of people think Facebook could become bigger than Google, but privacy could be the real Achilles heel for this company,” said Sunil Gupta, a professor at Harvard Business School whose research areas include new media. “Privacy will be a huge issue, both in Washington and overseas.”

This information comes at an interesting time as the FTC is calling for a “do-not-track” option for Internet users. That sounds nice but can it be enforced? That’s a discussion for another place.

What could hurt Facebook in these efforts is quite simply their history with privacy. Their “Oops! We didn’t mean it!” approach to privacy where they do what they want and then see just how big of a backlash it creates could hurt them. Of course, it doesn’t help that their founder, who is suddenly getting praise for being more polished, has always seemed a bit disingenuous when it comes to people, privacy and his company’s success.

“Facebook is a ticking privacy time bomb, no matter how much they spend in lobbying,” saidJeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, which has urged the FTC to address privacy issues at Facebook and other online marketers.

The article addresses the interesting aspect that Facebook has become a premiere tool for politicians in their attempts to stay connected with their constituencies as well as attack their enemies. Isn’t Washington grand?

I suspect with quotes like the following, Facebook has created some opposition in the nation’s capital that will require either a deeper reach into the wallet or just doing something differently just so it can continue to grow.

The co-chairmen of the House Privacy Caucus, Texas Republican Joe Barton and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, sent a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Oct. 18 questioning the company’s privacy safeguards. Facebook’s response, a 13-page letter dated Oct. 29, explained that the sharing of user IDs is part of the way Internet browsers work and that it is developing technical solutions to further protect its users.

The response didn’t satisfy Barton, who is seeking to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the new Republican-controlled House.

“It seems like not a month goes by without the discovery of a data breach of one kind or another,” Barton said in an e- mail. “My committee and its subcommittees are going to take a hard look at the reliability of Internet privacy policies.”

To be fair, it’s not like Facebook is the only player from the Internet community in Washington. In fact, it is far from the largest either.

Facebook’s Washington contingent is still dwarfed by Google, which has about 40 people in its Washington office, including 10 registered lobbyists.

Facebook spent $221,390 on lobbying activities in the first nine months of this year compared with $169,700 in the same period last year, according to federal disclosure reports. Google reported spending $3.92 million in the first nine months of this year. Facebook hasn’t registered a political action committee, while Google’s PAC gave $208,000 to federal candidates in the past two years.

So the game will continue and the money will go to places that sound nice but after that who knows who really benefits. As a result, one always has to wonder whether the eventual policy that shapes how the American public’s online privacy is ‘managed’ is really about what is best for the people, for politics or for politicians.

What’s your take on Facebook’s increasing Washington DC presence? Business as usual?

Have a nice weekend.