When you think about it, Facebook's kind of creepy. Yes, it's brilliant in its core concept as a sharing platform – 400 million users can’t be wrong – but they probably know more about your lifestyle than you’re comfortable with. And when they eventually develop a location-based gaming app like FourSquare, holy moly will they know. (NOTE: The day after I wrote this post, Facebook announced this feature.)
Just remember this – they can only reach as far into your life as you allow it. This is not to say Facebook’s privacy controls are easy. They’re not. In fact, I’ve always thought that their privacy setting interface was designed to favor their database rather than my privacy. It's cumbersome to navigate and you’re never sure whether what you tweak in Account settings carries over to your Privacy settings and Application settings.
I understand that data = gold. But over the past year it seems like Facebook has completely sold out and is now turning their back on the singular reason they exist – people. If the settings really are designed to confuse and confound, then they're going to always win because most people will get frustrated with figuring out how to protect themselves, and just give up. But they’ll still use the service because it’s fun, addictive and for God’s sake you’ve got to know what your friend from High School is doing right now! (For the record, I haven’t connected with anyone from that far back in my past. I really have no desire to return there.)
However, in Facebook’s defense, I’m one of those people who would actually *like* appeals that are designed FOR me (rather than advertisers hurling crap in every direction) – and the only way that can happen on the interwebs is to open up our data for advertisers. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently mentioned how this open data model was a good thing for everyone across the internet because of the idea of personalized appeals and relevant content. I agree. However, he also said he wants Facebook to the be center of the social universe. Yeah, that's a little creepy.
No, I won’t quit Facebook on 31 May, because it helps me share my life with people I like, and I don’t join revolutions just because other people do. Am I comfortable with Facebook managing so much valuable data? Hells no. Frankly, they’re acting like children who hear the ice cream man coming. It's as if they’re rushing to cash in NOW because 400 million accounts may be as good as it ever gets.
Do yourself a favor – take the time to properly configure your privacy settings or else don’t share anything on Facebook that you wouldn't want people outside of Facebook to see. Because as long as you’re openly giving information away in the digital realm, it’s going to end up somewhere. Whether you like it or not.
Jim Mitchem is a father, husband, writer and entrepreneur. He likes baseball and dogs. You can follow him on Twitter @smashadv. And yes, that's him in the image at the top. He refused to pay $20 (minimum) for a decent image on istockphoto.
6 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
May 20, 2010
Great post Jim. The the tweet from @Benkunz is one of the best examples. I’ll use that.
Just like you said I like getting personalized ads, makes more sense.
May 21, 2010
It’s good to know that you are actually secure on Facebook. Thanks for providing the link and great post.
On the advertising side, I do like that the ads are targeted and not just unrelated to me. But still, I much prefer to only be advertised to when I’m actively seeking something like with Google AdWords. I understand it is a main source of revenue for Facebook but most of the ads are still pretty irrelevant at this stage.
May 21, 2010
May 21, 2010
Thanks Billy. Yeah, I don’t think they’re out to become Big Brother, but Facebook does seem like juveniles with the data right now.
May 23, 2010
I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue. If Charlene Li is right and social media “becomes like air,” we will have a huge new data set of consumer preferences and connections floating around us. It makes intuitive sense that marketers will eventually find a way to use some of that data to personalize future touchpoints — a benefit for both consumers, who get relevant offers, and advertisers, who see high response.
However, the web has some significant barriers to getting to this future. One reason is people use the web for very intimate things — job searches, pornography, saying things to close friends they would never say in public — and I think there is a root fear that observation could expose this hidden truths. There is also an upsetting “connect” when personalization is immediate and obviously. If you shop at Pottery Barn and get a catalog for kitchenware 3 months later in the mail, you don’t freak out, because it’s hard to connect the dots of your card swipe in the store and the subsequent direct-mail contact. But if you visit Pottery Barn online and 5 minutes later see retargeting ads for pottery, you’re like, “damn, they’re watching me.” So the fear of real secrets being exposed coupled with the overt, often over the top heavy-handed personalization of ads seems to freak us out.
I think society will evolve past it. Facebook’s debacle is it seems to be trying to game the system by making itself open, claiming to be closed, and using ornately complex privacy settings to try to please both audiences. I know Facebook doesn’t resell data now to marketers (because I’ve asked and its privacy terms are clear). But I think it, and other social media sites, should. Somehow they’ll need to do a better job of explaining to consumers why this is a benefit, why some things will still be kept private, and why it’s part of a broader commercial ecosystem that works to everyone’s advantages.
Will be fun to see it sort out.
May 24, 2010
Yes Ben – like passing-a-kidney-stone, fun. I agree with what you’re saying, and think that everything’s solvable through education.
And since experience is the best education, we can look into the recent past to learn how to steer clear of digital traps. First, get your porn from magazines like the good ol’ days. Just don some dark shades and hat and get the nerve to ask the guy behind the counter for a Cheri to go along with your red bull, sunflower seeds and USA Today. Or else, people just need to use their imagination for sexual pleasure (assuming there’s no one around to help).
On the job thing – no problem, work with a headhunter. As we all know, they’re *completely* legit. – hahaha, I’m kidding. I was a headhunter in NYC in the early 90s. Not coincidentally, my spiritual bottom.
Really, it’s a matter of education. Except, this isn’t a switch we flip on. It’s going to take time. No, I don’t necessarily think FB wants to rule the world. But I do think that thanks to social networking and how we share data openly will make it possible for Starbucks to push a personal notification to you on an LCD screen on a subway to let you know they have a skinny latte ready for you at your 86th street stop. And what’s wrong with that?
My novel – Minor King
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