Facebook's Ford Pinto Moment

Many myths still circulate about the infamous exploding 1970s Ford Pinto

But one thing is certain: At some point in the vehicle's design process, Ford executives let economy, not safety, drive their decision-making.

Ford's early vision for the Pinto: Build a 2,000 pound car that would sell for less than $2,000. That makes it easier to understand how an $11 part that could have prevented 27 deaths (and many more serious injuries) got left off of the vehicle. 

Ford made a business decision when it really needed to be making an ethical one. Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel refer to this as "ethical fading" in their excellent book, "Blind Spots."   

This same sort of "fading" (losing sight of the ethical dimension of any issue) appears to be happening at Facebook, as it continues to loosen its privacy rules, which now allow teenagers to post status updates, videos and images that can be seen by anyone, not just by "friends." 

Facebook's decision could generate significant new ad revenues for the social media giant, as this New York Times story points out. But when it comes to the ethical dimension of the decision, a Facebook executive merely responds that other companies (including Twitter) are already doing the same thing. "C'mon, mom, everybody is doing it."  

I've written here before on Mental Shavings that we're merely "fooling ourselfies" when it comes to online privacy. But the issue may become far more explosive for Facebook when the subjects of those posts are our children, and not ourselves. 

ADDENDUM (via @Guardian): "A report by the Pew Internet and the American Life Project found that 91% of the 12-to-17-year-olds it surveyed post photos of themselves, 91% are happy posting their real name, 60% their relationship status, 82% their birthday, 71% the town where they live and the school they attend, 53% their email address and 20% their mobile number. " 

THIS EXPLAINS A LOT (10/31/13): "Facebook Fesses Up: Young Teens Are Getting Bored." 

ADDENDUM (11/18/13): Facebook listens, amends proposed changes to teen privacy rules.