Casual Evangelist

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Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Facebook and the Line in the Sand

Posted by Andrew on December 13, 2007

The dust has settled a bit and Zuck has sounded the call of retreat regarding Beacon. Over the past five years or so, a line has been drawn regarding user privacy and how user data can be used for purposes of advertising and monetization. The ubiquitous “community” of social Web adopters are generally OK with their data being used in the aggregate for the purpose of targeting advertisements, as long as their individual data is not sold or shared with anyone. Beacon crossed this line, and Facebook learned how quickly “lead” users will kick up dust when this “Social Web Contract” has been breached.

For decades, advertisers have dreamed of the ability to ensure that their advertisements could be targeted in the ways now available with online platforms like AdSense. While they’d love to have direct access to these “targets,” they’ll settle for a system that allows them to, say, target men, ages 18-24, who are single, like video games, and live east of the Mississippi. They never know who these individuals are, but trust that the publishers and the technology will deliver their messages appropriately.

Users “win” because, while still advertising, at least the signal to noise ratio of marketing messages is improved and the stuff they see is more relevant to them. And they rest easy with the notion that their privacy is protected and their data isn’t shared or sold. It’s a stretch to assume that our privacy is anything but an illusion, but Beacon demolished the illusion and, if anything, sharpened and helped further define what the line in the sand is and what it means.

I continue to use Facebook and find it useful and enjoyable. I’d wager that something like only 1% of Facebook users are even aware of the Beacon situation, and the 99% probably don’t care…they’re busy throwing sheep at each other. Likely the real reason for the retreat is the inevitable legal challenges from states like California or New York, where Spitzer’s always itching for a fight on behalf of the common consumer. In such states, you can’t use your customers in marketing efforts without written permission from the customer. And as each state has different commerce statues, the processes of compliance would be like death by a thousand paper cuts.

It would also be a mistake to assume that the legions of Facebook users would transform themselves into a virtual grassroots army on their behalf on this issue, primarily because Facebook would have to tell all of them what the issue is in order to get them engaged. My guess is that they’d agree with Eliot. Attempts to regulate or tax something like Facebook, and the legions will be standing ready with pitchforks in hand. But if you ask them to help you do a better job of opening up not only their private data, but their behavior and purchase activity, and the pitchforks would be facing the other direction.

I think the lesson has been learned not just by Facebook, but all social Web ventures. The line sharpened and the do-not-cross sign more visible than ever. They acted quickly, and the damage is probably minimal. I don’t see any evidence that the 1% of Facebook users – the “early adopter” types – are becoming the “early exit” types on Facebook…yet.

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