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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question from the audience after unveiling a new messaging system during a news conference in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question from the audience after unveiling a new messaging system during a news conference in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

A regulatory nightmare: Facebook and its goal of a less private Web Add to ...

It would seem Canada's privacy advocates have had a significant impact on the way the world's biggest social network does business. But on the other side of that coin is a massive impetus for Facebook to collect and utilize as much data as possible: to marketers, that personal data is worth billions of dollars.

Indeed, the average "Facebook fan" - that is, someone who endorses a company, a product or a cause by becoming a "fan" on Facebook - is worth $136.38, according to a research study by Syncapse, a Toronto-based social media technology and marketing firm. The company looked at Facebook fans of companies ranging from Coca-Cola to Gillette, to determine their value to the brand.

In 2006, Yahoo Inc. bid $900-million (U.S.) in an unsuccessful attempt to buy Facebook. Today, Facebook is worth more than $40-billion, according to a valuation derived from its trading price on a stock exchange for private companies. That's twice Yahoo's stock market value.

Virtually every major company in the world has a presence on the site. But while Facebook's current lure may be the sheer size of its user base, its long-term value is based on something much more subtle and significant: the social network's ability to influence - and to persuade users to part with reams of data about themselves, to reduce their own privacy.

That's the connection advertisers are ultimately willing to pay billions for, and no one else comes close to the sprawling global network of friends housed in Facebook.

Faced with the recent insurrection over privacy concerns, Mr. Zuckerberg is for the moment slowing Facebook's march toward a new, more open world.

In a rare video interview with The Wall Street Journal in June, Mr. Zuckerberg tried to mollify Facebook's concerned members. Sitting under the glare of television lights and faced with difficult questions about the company's privacy practices, he began to sweat profusely. After several minutes, he removed his trademark hoodie, revealing a corporate motto emblazoned on the lining that said: "Making the world open and connected."

Mr. Zuckerberg left little doubt that the company won't stop remaking the boundary lines of privacy.

"My prediction would be that a few years from now we'll look back and wonder why there was ever this time when all these websites and applications … weren't personalized in some way," he said.

"I just think that the world is moving in this direction where things are going to be designed more around people. I think that's really going to be a powerful direction."

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