As a social media specialist at Kramp my job is focussing on the strategic usage of social media. Obviously this means that I’m constantly involved with the most popular, influential, innovative, data driven, social media giants like Facebook and Google. Personally I do love how these social giants are enabling us, businesses and individuals, to fulfill our deeply embedded need for human connection. And although you can sometimes question the level of authenticity on these platforms, social media is providing tremendous opportunities to share world changing ideas, real time news, open discussions, creative expressions and inspiring thoughts with the world, in a split second. The point where I’m struggle with is the data driven business models behind these social giants and their lack in transparency.
As you probably know, all seemingly “free” social media services are all aiming to generate as many users as possible. More users means: more data, more detailed personalized profiles, more sophisticated advertisements, more advertisers, and yes… more money. But there are no boundaries on which our data is being collected, analyzed and sold to others and therefore you can wonder if your privacy is something you still control.
Importance of privacy
When you mention the words online privacy, you often hear responses in the range of “I have nothing to hide”.
But this is simply untrue since the “I” can’t exist without privacy. You are a human being with a unique personal character. Your character has to be secured by boundaries in communication in order to be maintained. If communication about your thoughts and emotions would always be out in the open. Then you would not have a character and your personality, therfore the “I”, would simply not exist.
Now let’s take a quick look at the definition of privacy:
Wikipedia: Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively.
So the question would be: Are you able to seclude yourself or information about yourself when using social services like for example Facebook? (You have to accept the Facebook user agreement before you can use your Facebook profile) So let’s review just three of the many questionable terms and conditions by Facebook:
¨Just like when you share information by email or elsewhere on the web, information you share on Facebook can be re-shared. This means that if you share something on Facebook, anyone who can see it can share it with others, including the games, applications, and websites they use.
Your friends and the other people you share information with often want to share your information with applications to make their experiences on those applications more personalized and social.¨
Conclusion: The spread of your personal data also depends on the actions by your Facebook friends.
“we’re continuing to improve ads based on the apps and sites you use off Facebook and expanding your control over the ads you see.”
Conclusion: Facebook is storing a lot more data about you than just about your activities on the Facebook platform. They’re also following your website visits and app usage (without you even being logged onto Facebook).
“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, such as photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP Licence). This IP Licence ends when you delete your IP content or your account, unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it”
Conclusion: By uploading photos or videos to Facebook you license Facebook to use your photos and they owe you nothing.
If you look back over the last couple of years. Things are not changing. Although the social giants are repeatedly mentioning how important they find your privacy, their actions show otherwise.
What can we do?
Although situations call for tough measures. Here are some possible actions:
1. More transparency
Although all commercial companies like Facebook, Google and Apple should be able to generate money via advertisements and therewith collecting personal data, more transparency about the exact usage and value of the data should be an obvious step. Let’s not forget the fact that the companies behind the social media are promoting authentic and transparent behavior, so why do they not take the lead by giving the right example?
Provide users with information about for example which data was collected, to which third party it was sold and how it was used. I’m not talking about non-tracking functionalities which would close all doors for data collecting. I’m talking about more insights and therewith more understanding about what companies are doing with our personal data.
2. Pay the price
Give social media users an option to get rid of all the advertisements by paying a monthly fee.
3. Warning symbols
In the end, the power for change lies on the side of the users. But since most users are not aware about the sophisticated levels of data collecting and especially what it means to the privacy and personal lives. Governments should invest more in creating awareness and understanding.
In the Netherlands companies who promote financial products like loans or equity funds are obliged to warn customers actively via a clear prescribed message, adjusted to the product risk level.
So why not first review and then tag online services on their data usage via easy recognizable warning symbols.
Lets start early with education on what data collection really means, how it works and what you, as an individual, can do about it. From childhood on we should be educated about how data driven companies are supplying us with wonderful services, but against a serious price, called privacy.
5. Social on data
None of the above mentioned topics happen if we don’t talk about it. Therefore, most important, let’s start an open discussion with companies, governments and users to find a balance in the world of data and privacy. Lets get social on data.
What do you think? What should users, social giants and or governments do to guard our privacy? I’m looking forward to your comments.
Best wishes for 2015.