A Perception of Anonymity

Growing up, I often heard my grandfather say — it doesn’t matter how many years you put a dog’s tail in a pipe, it will come out curved. The old man’s tribal wisdom certainly holds true for companies. The corporate DNA is what defines a company, and like the dog’s tail and it is hard to change. It is not the first time I have harped on this point. And won’t be the last.

The core corporate DNA is one of the reasons why technology companies often struggle to return to their former glory or why there are so few turnarounds. DNA is a lot more than just process. It is about a way of thinking and how it influences the core processes of the company. For some, products are core and thus drive everything else in the company — sales, marketing, operations and other goals. Apple is a good example. A counterpoint to that is companies where sales goals drives the product. Think, Samsung’s smartphone business.

When describing Apple’s DNA my friend Steve Crandall said it best “Apple is more than just features and products, instead it is a company whose craft is making devices that interact with people and other objects in a simple fashion.” Steve Jobs famously once said: “Its in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” Internet is not in Apple’s DNA and neither is data — and they continue to be sub-par in their Internet services and using data for creating amazing experiences. That’s not to say they won’t try to improve, but it is not core to their principles of corporate thinking.

Incase you were wondering why I am banging on about DNA — the reason is this latest bit of news that Facebook is developing an app that allows anonymity. That headline around that news essentially made me choke on my morning tea. The combination of Facebook and anonymity is as awkward as the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Presley — farcical, comic and an act undertaken for the express purpose of deceit. Anonymity and privacy are not part of Facebook’s DNA.

Facebook’s DNA is about mapping people, their relationships and booming their online identity. Infact, online identity is their most killer feature. It is what we all use to log into various websites to leave comments, or sign-in to new apps and services. It is how many Pinterest. Facebook identity is Facebook. So that is why it is hard for me to take any attempts at anonymity seriously!

If I am generous, any anonymous app or any privacy related changes it makes are just a way to alter perceptions. Facebook now wants to give a perception — and the growing popularity of Secret and Whisper might have something to do with it — that it believes in anonymity, privacy and being a good corporate citizen for data. Chalk it up to the gray in my hair, but I remain skeptical — just as I am skeptical of anonymity on any of these new apps.

At the end of the day, Facebook is in the business of collecting as much data and information as possible about everyone. It is about knowing every minute detail about your daily activity. It is now pushing into health-related communities, perhaps realizing the vital information Strava and RunKeeper type apps are collecting and could be useful for its future efforts.

Facebook, for now collects that data to inform its system to push advertising to us — on its own website, in apps and now elsewhere on the web. Tomorrow that data will be used to push commerce transactions in apps like Facebook Messenger and What’s app. Data is the atomic unit of Facebook’s plan. It cannot walk away from it and it cannot live and survive without it.

Facebook has a history of playing loose and easy with people’s privacy. From Beacon to the recent issues around the Messenger, Facebook is a terrible keeper of promises.  A company’s core DNA is reflected not in its press releases but in its actual actions. The most recent crack down on fake-names and the ham fisted approach shows, that as a company it lacks the requisite empathy that we need around societal issues such as privacy, data collection and anonymity.

Facebook Anonymous App — I guess perception is reality.

Photo Credit: Photo is actually a painting I found on Chaos Mag. It is the work of New York-based artist Marcus Jansen and I am glad I did take a look at his work. It is absolutely stunning and pretty haunting Check out his website.

A letter from Om

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