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What will it mean if Facebook, currently a private company, goes public this May or mid-2013, or at some other date predicted by pundits?
For investors, plenty. Experts disagree as to whether or not the high-priced stock will be worth it. Some think obscene wealth will be within reach; others think that the company may burst like a dot-com bubble. Remember the rules. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose, investigate before you invest, and do your homework. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is a good resource for learning about the stock market.
For Facebook users? The Internet verdict (from blogs and news articles) is almost unanimous: Less privacy. According to an article in the L.A. Times, Facebook will most likely “step up its efforts to harvest its users’ information as it tries to meet Wall Street expectations.
“The richest IPO in history is all based on the harvesting and sale of users’ information,” [says Jeffrey]Chester, [Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy]. “The IPO makes clear that Facebook intends to further friend the most powerful advertisers on the planet, help them better target the vast social network audience.”
(Speaking of preferences, did you know that your friends’ “likes” influence yours? The U.K. Guardian states: “…if I “like” Whole Foods on Facebook, you, as my friend, are presumed to harbour a preference for organic food as well – hence you are more likely to see a Whole Foods advertisement when you log on.” My best friend and I must be skewing their system—we are complete opposites.)
A Little Bit of Background
As the company prepares to become an even bigger deal in our marketplace, here are three things you should know about Facebook.
First, where does the money come from? An article in PC World quotes the company’s SEC filing as listing “digital cows, crops, and mafia hit jobs” as large revenue streams for the company. “Social game maker Zynga was responsible for about 12 percent of Facebook’s [some reports say $3.71 billion] revenue in 2011.” If you’ve played Farmville, you’ve supported Zynga.
Second, who are Facebook’s current shareholders? The Washington Post lists companies like DST Global, Accel Partners, Goldman Sachs, and T. Rowe Price along with company executives and its board of directors (including the Post’s CEO Don Graham). Another famous shareholder is Erskine Bowles, a former White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton. Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg owns 56.9 percent of the voting shares.
Third, who are FB’s major advertisers? According to the Huffington Post, the top five include AT&T, www.match.com, and Google. This January there was a bit of an imbroglio over an alleged scam site, but that has since been removed.
“When Facebook goes public it will be under increased scrutiny, held more accountable, and required to be more transparent,” says the Guardian. “But, at the same time, the need to maximise returns means the use of personal data is likely to increase, only raising privacy concerns.”
In November the company settled with the Federal Trade Commission over alleged “unfair and deceptive” practices of making public information that users thought was private.
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