Facebook Data Scandal - That's What I LIKE!

Facebook Data Scandal - That's What I LIKE!

Categorized under: technology trends

Over the past several weeks, the widespread use of data to influence social media users has come to light. The specific example that has concerned most users is that their behavior on social media was harvested by Cambridge Analytica and combined with external information (voter data records) to build extensive profiles that were then used to place targeted information in their newsfeeds. This data issue is different from other interactions that individuals have with marketing 1.0 and marketing 2.0 organizations due to the primarily social engagement with friends and family.

Marketing 1.0 – Email Address

Ever since the internet and network technology was invented, companies have sought to connect with customers. For many years, email marketing was the preferred means of connection. In fact, most people believe that email is the 1st successful use case of the internet. As companies began to use email addresses to communicate with customers, there was an understood tradeoff. If you wanted deals or other information, you would give an email that wasn’t necessarily your personal email to protect against spam. And, if you happened to give the wrong email address, you could simply ‘unsubscribe’ from the marketing communications. At no point during this communication was your personal information or privacy in question.

Marketing 2.0 – Search Engines

As customers became smarter with email account management and newsletter subscriptions, search engines became more popular. Search engines helped customers make sense of the explosion of websites on the internet. Instead of having information come to your email address, customers could simply go to search engine and tell them what they were looking for. Along with the search results, there would also be a series of paid advertisements for businesses that might also be related to the search terms. Once again businesses wanted to push further into customer’s lives by improving their sites through search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). In conjunction, companies like Google improving their algorithms so that only the most relevant sites would appear in search results. And while sites would store cookies (little bits of information) on your search history locally, there was always an option to delete your search history and most customers felt comfortable that their personal information and privacy was safe due to the anonymous nature of search engines.

Marketing 3.0 – Social Media

In recent years, a new form of marketing has entered popular culture. On social media sites like Facebook, the site learns a tremendous amount of data about individuals and groups of individuals. These insights which come from how you behave on the site or what you LIKE have created marketing gold for businesses. No longer do businesses have to wait for a search engine query or an email newsletter to understand purchase intent. Instead, if you read articles about Hillary Clinton, you are labeled as a Democrat. Or, if you watch videos about parasailing, you are labeled adventurous. Combine that with billions of other people and businesses have some pretty powerful psychographic data.  While most companies were content to use the data to improve the targeting of their advertising, others downloaded the data to connect to other data sources to build full profiles. There have been an estimates 50-100 million occurrences of this activity. Unfortunately, most people assume that they are not impacted by this. However, they are neglecting one of the most useful features on Facebook – lookalike audiences. Even if you weren’t part of the initial data loss, the platform could still have been used to target ads by feeding the stolen data back and creating a lookalike audience. This means that the issue is potentially must bigger than has been reported. One of the main concerns with this is that unlike email or search engines, customers shared their private information (what they LIKED) in the context of being social with their friends and family. It wasn’t as though they entered into an agreement with an email provider (Yahoo) or search engine (Google). Due to this expectation, I think that Facebook and other social media sites will have to take a leadership role in the responsible use of their platforms for all participants (businesses and users).

While social media sites will strengthen their platforms in response to this and prevent these occurrences going forward, customers will struggle with how much information they are giving up in order to utilize these platforms. There are some who have called for #deletefacebook campaigns. While that will certainly gain some followers, the vast majority of people will stick with the platform. In reality, it is the responsibility of Facebook and others to understand the capabilities of their platform for both good and bad purposes. And identify solutions that enable customers to safely utilize their platforms without having their data scrapped and aggregated in a way that was never intended.

About the Author: Omowale Casselle is the Co-Founder & CEO of Digital Adventures.