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Friday was the day that investors and folks in Palo Alto had been waiting for with bated breath, ever since Facebook announced that they would be going public back in February. Whilst the IPO was far from disastrous, a closing price of $38.23 ($0.23 above the opening value), issues with the Nasdaq flotation and a looming $15billion lawsuit over privacy violations left a bit of a bad taste on one of the biggest days in the company’s history.
Even as I’m writing this though, ahead of what is going to be the first full day’s trading after Friday’s issues, there’s a pretty decent chance that things could be on the up for Facebook once more. After all, it’s still an attractive company with huge revenue streams and even bigger potential. However, these overhanging legal issues will do little to encourage investors or users.
The latest case, which was filed on behalf of U.S. Citizens on Friday, relates to purported violations in privacy. It appears to centre on the use of the “like” button, which effectively tracks what people are looking at. Lawmakers allege that this contravenes the WireTap Act, potentially making the company liable for fines of up to $10,000 for each user in America. This, if successful, could have wide-reaching implications for other services that we take for granted. More immediately, it could make a serious dent in Facebook’s profitability, how users share news and videos and could be devastating to their market price.
Of course this isn’t the only dark cloud on the horizon. Yahoo! has been sitting on a fair few patents for a while and filed a lawsuit back in March, conveniently just after the IPO announcement. Now, as with the latest broadside, there’s nothing to suggest that this will impact the services Facebook offers or even be successful, but it’s clear that the social network is becoming a target.
Yahoo! isn’t on the firmest footing at the moment though and with Scott Thompson’s departure, there may be a mellowing in their pursuit of compensation. However, asset stripping and boosting the coffers certainly are on the agenda, as proven by the announcement that they would be selling part of their stake in Alibaba for $7.1billion. So perhaps, just as they did with Google way back when, Yahoo! might make Facebook their top target and ongoing cash cow, particularly if their claims of patent-violations hold up in the courts.
Don’t be too concerned about Facebook. As is almost always the way, they have come up with their own patents to fire straight back at Yahoo! A messy showdown may therefore be avoidable and a much smaller settlement may be the end result – if anything.
But I digress. After all the furore and excitable tech-types, Facebook didn’t quite set the world on fire on Friday. However, stock market flotations are rarely defined by a day, a week or even months, so there is plenty of time for investors to back the social network and boost Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth. Whether this will change the dynamic of the company or the market in which it operates is certainly open to question.
Stockholders will have a real voice for the first time (even if Zuckerberg has overall control) and Facebook will have to appease them with new innovations and methods of monetising their service. They will also have to be more open about accounts and what they do, which could give us a greater insight into the inner workings of the business. As always, it shouldn’t be dull though.