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Has Facebook Gone TOO Far With User’s Information?

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Speider Schneider
Speider Schneider
Web Hosting Geek

The great social media tool, the “water cooler” for former coworkers and the chat-it-up place for friends to stay in touch keeps changing but not an evolution of usage, rather changing how the site uses YOU! Experts said it was coming. Once Facebook went public, it was only a matter of time for it to make use of the product. Unfortunately, in this free social site, you, the user are the product and it had to come down to how and to whom you would be sold.

When Facebook became a publicly traded company a short time ago, people had great expectations but others asked, what can Facebook do to make a profit for investors? Would ads still cover the need to show increasing profits to keep the stock rising? What else could they sell to make money? Slavery, although outlawed, seemed the only answer and Facebook jumped on it, basically without anyone really noticing… or do they?

Have you logged on and wondered who sent you a message because the message icon shows you have one or more messages but wondered why some online gambling site is sending you a message when you’re not a “friend” nor have you “liked” their page? Is there a post from a friend asking you to like a page and you find out that friend never placed that post? Pretty sneaky but someone is giving advertisers access to you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Most savvy Facebook users grew tired of the third party apps long ago. No one cared who was burning down a barn in Farmville or treasured the “gifts” of icons given so freely to one or another after approving terms of service that gave access to your friend’s profiles and information. In a way, as someone once posted, it’s like turning your neighbors into the Gestapo for some cheesy picture collection of Star Wars spaceships. Okay, to some that was well worth the treachery. Little by little, people would warn their friends not to send requests for help in getting a badge in one of these time-wasting games and more than that, to stop giving permission for the information retrieval they still wanted private.

What About My Privacy Settings?

Sure, Facebook gives you choices for privacy, after they’ve changed the rules without notice and someone on your friends list posts ways of setting your privacy settings under the new smoke and mirrors Facebook changes. While you weren’t noticing the change, everything you’ve posted has been stored, shared and sold for someone else to use. I somehow doubt that Johnny Depp gave his permission to a denim retailer to use his picture for their Facebook ad. A friend of mine had to explain to her boyfriend about her picture adorning a sidebar ad for women who want to date mature men. Yes, it started years ago but it’s only getting worse.

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In Nick Bilton’s New York Times article, ”Facebook Changes Privacy Settings, Again”

“There are a billion users and blocking is the ultimate way of saying I don’t want to interact with this person,” Facebook’s director of product, Sam Lessin said. “We think blocking is really positive.”

The company is also introducing a higher level of control on the site’s Activity Log, a feature that allows people to hide or remove things that appear on their Facebook timeline. People will now be able to quickly view and control comments, photos and posts that have been tagged by others.

But when Facebook giveth, Facebook taketh away.

The company is eliminating the ability for people to hide themselves on Facebook’s search, a control, that until now, has existed in the privacy settings on the company’s Web site.

Mr. Lessin said the ability to hide from the site’s search would be “retired” as only ”a single-digit percentage of users” actually hide themselves from Facebook search. But keep in mind that Facebook has a billion people on the site; a single-digit percentage of users could mean tens of millions of people.


Author, Geoffrey A. Fowler, in his Wall Street Journal article, “Facebook Sells More Access to Members,” writes:

To amp up the effectiveness of its ads, Facebook in recent months has begun allowing marketers to target ads at users based on the email address and phone number they list on their profiles, or based on their surfing habits on other sites.

It has also started selling ads that follow Facebook members beyond the confines of the social network.

Rankling privacy advocates most, Facebook is using its data trove to study the links between Facebook ads and members’ shopping habits at brick-and-mortar stores, part of an effort to prove the effectiveness of its $3.7 billion annual ad business to marketers.

Mr. Fowler goes on to explain how Facebook is using the power of the information about users at its digital fingertips:

At the core of Facebook’s expanding ad strategy is the fact that the social network knows a lot about its users’ true identities. While Google largely makes inferences about people based on their searching and browsing habits, Facebook is built on people volunteering personal information that’s valuable to marketers, including names, friends, phone numbers and tastes.

In September (of 2012), Facebook began allowing marketers with their own lists of email addresses and phone numbers to target ads at specific groups of Facebook users of at least 20 at a time. Facebook matches up that outside data with information users have entered into their profile.

A clothing store, for example, could use the service to target customers based on their past purchase habits, or a bank could target ads just at customers with high bank balances.

The information Facebook has, willingly thrown at them by almost a billion users, is a marketer’s wet dream. It’s all worth billions and billions of dollars to companies panting to buy access to it all. Will Facebook start selling it? They already are, although indirectly and still through their control.

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Lori Andrews, writes in her New York Times article, “Facebook Is Using You” that your information makes you a prime target for certain ads:

Facebook makes money by selling ad space to companies that want to reach us. Advertisers choose key words or details — like relationship status, location, activities, favorite books and employment — and then Facebook runs the ads for the targeted subset of its 845 million users. If you indicate that you like cupcakes, live in a certain neighborhood and have invited friends over, expect an ad from a nearby bakery to appear on your page. The magnitude of online information Facebook has available about each of us for targeted marketing is stunning. In Europe, laws give people the right to know what data companies have about them, but that is not the case in the United States.

Naturally this “data aggregation,” as it’s known in the industry, has been a hot topic of late. In California and Illinois, for example, recently passed laws that makes it illegal for an employer to demand your Facebook password so they can access your account and see your activity. Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Delaware had also recently passed the same laws in 2012. This may help a potential employee to hide certain indiscretions, however, there in no law against an employer using search engines to see other material posted online and even Facebook postings are not excluded, depending on what is posted and how search bots may find those terms.

Ms. Andrews continues about the dangers of data aggregation on your personal life:

Stereotyping is alive and well in data aggregation. Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data — what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done. If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy. When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, “other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”

Unfortunately, as reported in the Forbes article, “Employers Demanding Facebook Passwords Aren’t Making Any Friends,” it states the obvious:

“…as the job market steadily improves… some job seekers cannot afford to say no.”

Will This Affect Your Business?

Business man in center of blue target

If you have a fan or business page on Facebook, then you may wonder what this will mean to your business. Will data aggregation work against you? If users abandon Facebook, will your social media marketing efforts need to change drastically? The answer has to be, “no!”

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Remember the “Facebook will start charging users” scam/spam/misinformation? Even if Facebook did start charging, almost like the premium service several social media/networking sites have, people are too addicted to Facebook to quit it. Likewise, despite the odd changes in privacy, businesses that have fan pages will continue to enjoy the social media boost. Will the data aggregation collected by Facebook hurt your business? Again, “no!” with a possible “maybe” thrown in.

As with any posting to the internet, a business must be careful of the content placed in a public forum. One slip and the world will “share” your blunder virally. It is now more important than ever to make sure the person or persons handling you social media outreach are careful, professional and sensitive to what they post in your name. Any posting will be somewhere on the internet forever.

As for your business information being shared or sold, it’s most probably being shared and sold through other methods such as the familiarity of the service or product and, in the long run, every business will benefit from the information being compiled about Facebook users. The more targeted your audience, the better of a ROI you’ll get for your advertising dollar with Facebook ads, so, in conjuction with a fan page, an ad can really push your visibility with like minded users higher than the old “shotgun” approach of advertising and help any business gain the much desired “1,000 true fan rule.”

The old saying, “you kiss your mother with that mouth?” (in reference to those who had a habit of cursing too much in public), is a reminder to all of us that our internet additions will define us to others and privacy is no longer a luxury for anything web related.

Images ©GL Stock Images


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