Here’s a question for you: if you are on Facebook (and over 500 million of us are), do you consider yourself to be one of Facebook’s customers?
(I’ll give you a second to ponder this question……………………)
If you said yes, I am a Facebook customer – well I hate to break this to you but you aren’t. Facebook’s customers are the businesses that pay for those targeted ads we see in the right-hand column of the Facebook interface. How is Facebook so good at targeting those ads?
Because Facebook users are actually the real Facebook product. The more Facebook can convince (or trick) its users to give up even more personal details, the better product they have. In fact, when they offer new features like location or the email feature they’ll announce soon – those are actually new versions of their product.
They depend on our personal information, and our interactions with people and companies, to continue to improve their offering for their real customers.
Is this a bad thing? It all depends how you feel about it. Jane Bozarth has a nice post about this same idea where she talks about privacy and Facebook. But with a service that has 500 million users that is now part of the social fabric in most countries, gaining control of your privacy isn’t as easy as just quitting Facebook.
Here are some of the things I think we have to start thinking about:
- The privacy issue goes far, far beyond pictures we share online being leaked to a 3rd party, or our emails being harvested. What Facebook is doing is mapping your online activities, who you like, who you talk to, what you play, what you read……and building applications to predict what you *should* want to see. We know that they have algorithms to show us news updates, what happens if someone decides to use this same technology to start shaping public worldview?
- What if you work for a company that expects you to be on Facebook for work? As someone who leads the social media charge for an organization, this is a real fear people have. I think we have a responsibility to listen to those fears and to find an acceptable solution (esp if we want people to “do” social at work).
- What societal implications are there if 500 million people use a product that you are reluctant to use because of privacy fears? Do you become an outsider?
I don’t think Facebook is bad, I use it A LOT. I do think people should be more aware of what Facebook is doing and act accordingly. Here are some safeguards I’ve seen people using:
- Some things are NSFFB – not safe for Facebook. Your updates are being recorded and analyzed, even if you are only sharing them with one or two people. You don’t have to put everything in Facebook – maybe a phone call or a lunch date would be a better way to share the info.
- Some parents I know do not allow pictures of their kids on FB. Others allow pics, but don’t allow their kids to be identified. If you are a parent, decide what is right for you and your family and let others know
- This is my most radical idea – but maybe we should try to find ways to mess with the data collection system. You don’t have to have correct info in your profile – lie about your age, your location. When grocery stores first started using the frequent buyer cards, I was part of a group who would change cards every few months. The goal was to find someone completely different from you, and switch with them, so the store couldn’t get a correct profile on you based on what you bought. Do we need something like that for FB?
What do you think? Do you think the harvesting of our personal connections, likes and dislikes presents a societal shift? Do you think people who understand the mechanics of this shift have a responsibility to start sounding the warning bell on this issue? Or do you have suggestions on how to protect this information? Share ’em in the comments!