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Adrian Wyld  /  AP file
“Facebook is a phenomenal success, so we were not expecting to see it score so poorly with consumers,” said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results, which worked with the University of Michigan on the American Customer Satisfaction Index poll.
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msnbc.com
updated 7/20/2010 11:00:03 AM ET 2010-07-20T15:00:03

Facebook, the most visited site on the Internet , may also be the most despised: A new poll says the site scored 64 on a 100-point scale, which “puts Facebook in the bottom 5 percent” of private sector companies “and in the same range as airlines and cable companies, two perennially low-scoring industries with terrible customer satisfaction,” according to results of a survey released today.

The results of the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s E-Business Report, done by the University of Michigan in conjunction with ForeSee Results, comes as Facebook nears 500 million members, and as founder Mark Zuckerberg prepares to take to the airwaves Wednesday to talk about his company and its woes.

“Facebook is a phenomenal success, so we were not expecting to see it score so poorly with consumers,” said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results. “At the same time, our research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience.”

The ACSI polls — based on interviews with 70,000 customers annually — historically have measured customer satisfaction with more than 225 brick-and-mortar companies, as well as federal government departments. This is the first time social media sites were measured.

“Social media has become too big to ignore, so we added it to our list of e-business measures,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and professor of business at the University of Michigan. “We are quite surprised to find that satisfaction with the category defies its popularity.”

Facebook has been under fire much of this year for everything from the ways it shares data to changing the site around so frequently that regular users are confused and frustrated, especially when it comes to privacy settings.

The Federal Trade Commission says it is examining Facebook’s privacy and data collection practices as well as those of other social networks. In Germany, a data protection official said this month he launched legal proceedings against Facebook, alleging the site illegally accesses and saves the personal data of people who don't use the site.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, who normally stays out of the public spotlight, is stepping into it to deflect and respond to criticism. He penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post a few months ago about some of the site’s changes (“We just missed the mark.”), and is scheduled to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer Wednesday on ABC.

In other ACSI results, Google continues to lead search portals and the search engines industry with a score of 80 out of 100, although that is down from 86 last year, said Fornell.

“The drop for Google may be related to efforts to expand well beyond its core search engine business,” with Google adding additional services, including its Chrome Web browser, and this year, a controversial social networking program, Buzz, Fornell said in a written analysis.

“But in trying to become all things to all people, Google seems to have encountered some of the pitfalls that portals and social media sites face including concerns about privacy, which have led to an upswing in complaints about Google’s policies and practices in the past year,” he wrote.

Other search engines and portals had these rankings: Microsoft’s Bing search engine “makes a strong first showing with a score of 77, trailed by Yahoo! (76), AOL (74), and Ask.com (73),” according to the poll. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Other prominent social media sites had relatively high rankings. At the top, with a score of 77 was Wikipedia, the encyclopedia site where just about anyone and everyone can and does contribute information

"Wikipedia is more satisfying than most of the ACSI-measured news and information websites," Fornell wrote. "Like Google, Wikipedia’s user interface has remained very consistent over the years, and its nonprofit standing means that it has not been impacted by commercialization and marketing unlike many other social media sites."

YouTube had a score of 73. MySpace had a score of 63 — one point below Facebook.

Facebook "was the upstart to MySpace’s market leader just five years ago, but these roles now have been reversed," Fornell wrote. "Still, controversies over privacy issues, frequent changes to user interfaces, and increasing commercialization have positioned the big social networking sites at satisfaction levels well below other websites and similar to poor-performing industries like airlines and subscription TV service (both 66)."

In the news and information category, FOX News has a customer satisfaction score of 82, MSNBC.com has 74, and CNN.com has 73, according to the poll. All major news websites "improved" from last year, Fornell said, including newspaper websites for USATODAY.com (up 4 points to 77) and NYTimes.com (up 4 points to 76).

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