Why Facebook’s IPO Is Good For Data Ownership

Mark Zuckerberg and associates finally pulled the trigger on Facebook’s long-awaited IPO, sparking discussion on whether the $100 billion valuation is justified, whether the company can survive its success, and even whether the NYSE or NASDAQ will be the beneficiary of this rock-star new stock.

No mention, it seems, of what the IPO means for Facebook’s users. The smart money says privacy, security and data ownership are the big winners of the Facebook IPO. Why? Take a gander at Facebook’s actual SEC filing. This is a peek behind the curtain at Facebook’s financials that the company would never have allowed in the past. Yes, it’s trading that close-to-the-vest secrecy for an expected $5 billion cash infusion, but once you cross the threshold to publicly traded entity, that kind of secrecy is never coming back.

So what has this to do with privacy, security, and data ownership? Well, for starters, the SEC spotlight makes it possible for the data liberation movement to keep a much keener eye on Facebook’s inner workings. And where the SEC goes, the Federal Trade Commission often follows, and they have some rather strong feelings about consumer protections.

Now, being publicly traded isn’t a panacea. Facebook may remain an online dictatorship when it comes to user rights, and their culture of privacy indifference can’t change overnight, but there’s a rather powerful impetus to keep from playing fast and loose with user data: A public share price. Facebook will need to step lively to keep Uncle Sam happy, because nothing smacks a share price around like a federal investigation. Look no further than Google’s recent mini-dust-up over its unified privacy policy — and the Congressional oversight thereof — to see the level Facebook is playing at now.

Facebook is going public, in more ways than one. And they’ll have to work twice as hard to keep the public on their side. That can only be good for users, and thus good for data ownership.

Just make sure you have a good backup plan.