Much has been built up in the media this last five years about how we share data; the rise and rise of social networking dug up questions old and new about privacy policies and the security of our precious personal information. Anyone who came of age from the late 90s onwards is aware that you shouldn’t give out your credit card number on a chat room, but all of a sudden there is pressure from all angles to broadcast every detail of your life to ‘friends’ numbering in the hundreds.
A study by Cambridge University, entitled ‘The Privacy Jungle’, was published in 2009 and claimed to be “the ﬁrst thorough analysis of the market for privacy practices and policies in online social networks.” Led by Soren Preibusch and Joseph Bonneau, the paper dealt with 45 separate social networking sites and sought to identify how public they were being with their data protection guidelines. LinkedIn and Bebo did well, with Facebook and MySpace ranking average but one of the lowest scoring was a relatively new site called Badoo which had recently found an enormous following in Southern Europe and South America.
3 years on, Badoo is now one of the world’s biggest social networks with nearly 160million registered users and a lot at stake in ‘breaking’ the British and North American markets. With such a boost in publicity, the last thing they want is Google throwing up questionable articles surrounding users’ privacy so they have overhauled their policy, even going so far as to invite Mr Preibusch back to have a cup of tea and a re-assessment of the situation. It is clear that there is a lot riding on this short web-based contract, the majority of which people never actually read.
Their policy surrounding the penultimate topic above – that most feared and despised market of selling information to other companies for the purposes of marketing – is a resounding “No”. However, in the same breath they freely admit to disclosing data for the good of “..industry analysis and demographic profiling and to deliver targeted advertising..”. The implication is that, although it is morally wrong to sell someone’s name address and phone number to another company, there is no way to avoid the inevitable lure of DATA (capitalisation intended). Indeed, this sort of information is the raw material without which sites like Facebook would not be sustainable.
Facebook, of course, is a far more widespread threat to our security than a relative minnow like Badoo and a subject that nearly all of us can comment on with authority. If you have had a Facebook profile at any time over the last five years you will have seen posts from part-time conspiracy theorists and amateur freedom fighters condemning Facebook for whoring out information left, right and centre. It’s true that they have even more of a vested interest in tracking our behaviour than Badoo because they make their revenue from advertising and the USP of a Facebook marketing campaign is that it can be targeted by location, age, gender, family status, religion, hobbies or nearly any other category you care to mention.
Your precious personal information is yours and yours alone, and there is a tangible ethical issue with companies who use it for financial gain. However, consider the flipside; a good social network needs a lot of users, with lots of users comes the need for lots of server space, bringing along with it lots of bugs which require code monkeys to fix. Code monkeys, and the aforementioned server space, both cost money and for the social network to run someone has to fund them. However, the users want this service for free so someone has to pick up the bill and the advertisers are more than happy to pick up the bill if they feel they can make revenue out of it. Remember, if it’s free then YOU are the product.
This article was written by Barry Cooke. Barry has been working in search and social media for over 15 years with a number of well known household brands and currently is the production director for advanced digital marketing agency, QDOS Digital Media.
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