The social network, which turns 12 years old this week, has seen its fair share of successes: Messaging app WhatsApp, which it acquired in 2014 for $19 billion, recently hit the 1 billion users threshold, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And Messenger, which it famously uncoupled from its flagship, reached 800 million users.
But not all of Facebook’s business decisions and product launches have been hits – and it’s never shied away from failure. Facebook’s at times questionable ethics led the social network to lawsuits, products and features fizzled and big bets fell flat. Here’s a look at Facebook’s most memorable missteps.
1. Facebook Beacon
In 2007, the social network launched the first iteration of an ad platform, called Facebook Beacon. Beacon tracked users’ activities on participating external websites, used the data to target ads and published users’ activity on the sites to their news feeds without their consent. Facebook opted all users into this program, and did not provide any way to opt out.
Beacon immediately drew the ire of privacy advocates, which resulted in a class action lawsuit. Facebook ultimately terminated the Beacon program and created a $9.5 million fund for privacy and security, none of which was repaid to users.
2. Facebook Gifts
Facebook Gifts was the social network’s first attempt at an online store: Users could pay to send icons to friends — anything from an image of a birthday cake to a slice of pizza – which would be displayed on users’ profiles.
Three years later, the social network announced it would close its gift shop, saying it planned to “focus more on improving and enhancing products and features that people use every day, such as photos, news feed, inbox, games, comments, the like button and the wall.”
3. Facebook Lite
For users who didn’t want all of Facebook’s bells and whistles, the social network launched a slimmed-down site called Facebook Lite in 2009. People could post on others’ time lines, send and accept friend requests and update their status – but just eight months after announcing it, the social network shut it down.
“Thanks to everyone who tried out Facebook Lite,” the company said in a status update on the site. “We are no longer supporting it, but learned a lot from the test of a slimmed-down site.”
4. Facebook email addresses
Many thought that the launch of Facebook’s @facebook.comemail address in 2010 signaled the end of Gmail. Facebook email addresses rolled out as part of the social network’s “social inbox” project — an effort to make Facebook into your communications platform of choice, from text and chat messages to email.
Since then, Facebook spun out Messenger into its own, highly successful app and Gmail is as popular as ever. Facebook email addresses, though – not so much.
5. Facebook shares home addresses
In 2011, Facebook gave third-party apps and websites access to users’ home addresses and mobile phone numbers that they shared on the social network. The move was intended to help users complete online forms using their Facebook information, but it was abused: Later that year, Facebook discovered some developers had sold that user information not marketing firms.
6. Facebook Deals
Social deals – think Groupon and LivingSocial, for example – were big in 2011. To capitalize on that trend, Facebook launched its own product to compete. Called Facebook Deals, these offers debuted in five cities and let users make purchases on goods and experiences at steep discounts.
Just four months in, Facebook announced it would end the test. “We think there is a lot of power in a social approach to driving people into local businesses,” it said. “We’ve learned a lot from our test and we’ll continue to evaluate how to best serve local businesses.”
7. Facebook’s IPO lawsuit
In 2012, Facebook’s IPO was investigated and compared to a “pump and dump” scheme – a form of stock fraud that involves artificially inflating the price through false and misleading positive statements.
A class-action lawsuit alleged that the Facebook financial officer communicated adjustments to earning statements to the underwriters, who used the information to cash out on their positions while leaving the public with overpriced shares.
By the end of the month, Facebook’s stock lost more than a quarter of its starting value, prompting many to call its IPO a failure.
In an interview in 2012 – the first after the company’s IPO – Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the company focused too much on HTML5, referring to the original HTML5-powered Facebook apps, which were riddled with latency and other issues. Instead, the focus should have been on native apps, he said.
“The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 rather than native,” he said. “We burned two years.”
9. Facebook Home
The social network unveiled Facebook Home, a user interface designed to replace the home screen on Android phones, in 2013. Facebook Home let users view and post content on Facebook, view notifications from Facebook and other apps, and allowed users to chat via the social network or SMS from any app.
Feedback on Facebook Home was mixed, with users complaining that its focus on its own social network was to the detriment of other apps not focused on social networking, while others cited privacy concerns due to Facebook’s unprecedented access to user data on mobile devices.
A few months after its launch, Facebook announced it would make improvements to the app. This year, the interface was discontinued.
10. Glitch exposes 6 million users
In 2013, Facebook inadvertently exposed 6 million users’ phone numbers and email addresses to unauthorized viewers over the span of a year. The social network blamed the data breach on a technical glitch: Users who downloaded contact data for their list of friends also obtained contact information they were not supposed to have.
“We currently have no evidence that this bug has been exploited maliciously and we have not received any complaints from users or seen anomalous behavior on the tool or site to suggest wrongdoing,” Facebook said in a blog post. “It’s still something we’re upset and embarrassed by, and we’ll work doubly hard to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
11. Creative Labs
Creative Labs was Facebook’s two-year experiment that often showcased ideas developed during its popular internal hackathons. Often debuting as standalone apps, these ideas included the alternative news feed browser, Paper; Snapchat successor Slingshot; and Rooms, a reimagined chat room for mobile devices. None of Creative Labs’ apps were particularly successful, and the social network announced in December that it ended the program.
To the surprise of many developers, Facebook last month announced it would close Parse, a highly successful toolkit and support system for mobile developers.
“We know that many of you have come to rely on Parse, and we are striving to make this transition as straightforward as possible,” said Kevin Laker, Parse cofounder, in a blog post. “We enjoyed working with each of you, and we have deep admiration for the things you’ve built.”
The company acquired Parse in 2013.
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