To Help Users Address Privacy Issues, Facebook Deploys a Cartoon Dinosaur

dinoContent creation, discovery and consumption has never been easier. There is vastly more content volume, and it’s accessed in countless new ways, the most prominent being search and social media. That makes it a golden era for communicators, of course, and their creativity has never been greater.

But it’s also no surprise that companies like Google and Facebook have devised ways to measuring that media creation and consumption, and have built massive businesses on data mining. And consequently, it’s also no surprise that a major backlash has developed against those companies.

In fact, 86% of Internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints, according research by the Pew Research Center last year. This ranges from clearing cookies to using virtual networks that mask an internet protocol (IP) address.

Facebook, which has been hit particularly hard by the privacy backlash, and which as made its privacy controls extraordinarily hard to master, is fighting back. This is an interesting story for communicators for a couple of reasons. First, their audiences are on Facebook. Those audiences will share and engage more or less depending on their sense of privacy and their trust in Facebook. But it’s also a PR initiative for Facebook that’s worthy of some analysis. The giant social network announced yesterday that it will proactively give all of its 1.2 billion users a privacy audit, and help them understand their implications of their settings, and change them if desired. It will also change default settings for new users from being accessible to anyone to only being accessible to friends.

Facebook has chosen a warm-and-fuzzy cartoon dinosaur to help users manage their settings. The figure may well join a long line of dubious digital mascots, whose impact has been more as a source of derision and ridicule than utility. There was Microsoft Bob, a user-navigation tool, in 1995.

Then there was Microsoft Clippy, in 2003, which had a similar goal of easing navigation around Microsoft Office. Twitter had its own cartoon image, a happy whale, which appeared when Twitter service was interrupted. It became known as the “Fail Whale.”

Facebook clearly knew of this history, and it must have known about the stories that Facebook has peaked, when it selected a dinosaur, with the obvious implications there. And it went ahead anyway. It’s an interesting PR strategy.

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  • Megan

    Everyone loves dinosaurs, right? How can we possibly go wrong with an oddly colored, Cretaceous lizard designed to somehow engage users through its Teletubby-esque appearance? I see a blue (haired) dino standing in front of a computer, and all I can think of is my poor mother. Not winning imagery for driving user engagement.

    I also hope Facebook’s fossilized avatar of digital privacy doesn’t end up in a Colbert bit … like Talisman Energy’s Terry the Fracosaurus. Intended to be a warm and fuzzy reminder, er, introduction for children to the fact that oil and gas comes from dead dinos, poor Terry was an epic fail–even with the coloring book crowd.

    I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about Facebook’s foray into dino mascot territory either.