Who’s In Charge of Social Media Privacy in a Data-Driven Age?

The growing consumer use of social media is changing the way companies conduct their own marketing, customer service and innovation. Social media is changing our understanding of the current value for business customers in particular, and very few have gone so far as creating a new definition of customer value.

Questions concerning the respect of privacy on the Internet regularly produce headlines in the news. The modern social network online has been widely criticized for making the personal information of its members’ public by default.  Many users were surprised by noting that their photos and other personal information are now accessible through the network. Users who do not want their profile viewable by everyone were forced to change their own settings to make it private again. Facebook is often central to this debate: the most recent example comes from its new subsidiary, Instagram.

With the spread of Facebook, Twitter, mobile, and other technology-based modes of communication, experts are questioning the concept of privacy and the very definition of a “friend.”v The uproar generated by the public disclosure of private messages on Facebook, or the recent theft of LinkedIn passwords triggered an alarm regarding the safety and privacy of these social networks.

The web is not a private space

The web is not a private space – and even if it had been in the past, it no longer is the case. This is a public space. Web 2.0 has changed the perception of private space, now operating on open and democratic platforms where all users can access and contribute.

Facebook was designed primarily as a private network with the aim to enable communities to communicate with each other. But the fact is that the rise of social networks has become central for the commercial sector as their new communication medium.  Do not forget: the business model of social networks is, above all, based on advertising.  And for that, they need to identify fairly accurately each of their millions of users. This is done by collecting as much information on the profiles of the latter, while regularly updating their privacy policies, of course, to reflect a strange and terrifying balance with their business model.

Companies are mining the social web to build a commercial platform, based largely on the collective information you and millions of others provide.  Information posted publicly on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, forums and other sites, whether it’s your profile, photos, interests, hobbies, etc., is a reminder that we need to be aware of what we are posting on social networking sites and to whom we are connected.

More recently, Facebook announced new changes in the parameters of privacy. For the future implementation of additional services, the social network wants to share the personal data of its members with other partner sites. Facebook has not disclosed the list of sites in question, but indicates that this functionality can be blocked by users.

Facebook’s new entity, Instagram, recently updated its privacy policy as well, giving itself the right to use your photos in its ads. Not surprisingly, Instagram received huge backlash from users and they were forced to amend the policy.

“The Instagram issue is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is a rapidly growing industry of collecting and selling information on you.  The Internet is forever.  Consumers should be careful who they trust with their private information and the private information of their kids, friends, and friends kids,” says a member of the executive team at Wickr, the secure communication provider company.

“Do you trust the company to use your information in your best interested?  Do you trust the company to keep your information safe from all that want access to the goldmine?  How does the company make money? These are all important questions for intelligent consumers to ask. Photos of family members, personal experiences, even health histories are not off limits once shared on these platforms,” the Wickr representative added.

It’s all about commercialization

Here is a classic example as how a company takes full advantage of your Facebook personal information for business use. At a conference organized by data warehouse company Teradata earlier this month, Nissen Co., LTD, a catalog company used to send 200 million food, clothing, and consumer good catalogs across Japan each year, said it is using Facebook’s user information to better market to its customers and increase sales.

The company analyzes its customers Facebook data based on their life stage and events (single, married, aging parent, birthdays) and then incorporate psychographics into its marketing.

“Consumers now post a huge amount of data about themselves, their activities, and their feelings,” said Shigeru Kakimaru of Nissen’s marketing team. “We can learn the life background of our customers — their lifestyle and psychology. We can then target our catalogs accordingly. And we can predict when someone needs a product based on what they say on social media.”

And the importance of social data is applicable to a number of industries, with its ability to provide information so much larger than any sample size we’ve ever been able to compile before Web 2.0.  Financial services companies such as banks and lenders, also use data mining services from social sites for marketing; hotels, airlines use this service to build specific discount plans; politician use this to engage and influence people and the list will go on and on.

Who’s in Charge of Social Media Privacy?

The answer is people like you and me, who uses social media and often take these services for granted. If a user makes publically accessible their geotagged posts, it is relatively easy to identify their home address, workplace, local shopping center, hobbies and interests, along with places they frequent such as their favorite bars and restaurants.

In many social networks, the default option for posting content is to include location information.  Hopefully by making users aware of the fact they can be tracked, it will encourage them to take another look at what they share, and with whom.

Our Wickr representative stresses the importance of reading privacy policies very closely, looking for statements of data collection, information sharing and any mention of the “Under 13 boilerplate.” These terms legally allow the company to share and even sell your personal data.

In addition, you can determine whether you want to go public or private with your social media profiles, eliminate people and sites from your social networks that you don’t need or want to represent your interests; pay attention to your friends, invites, and connection requests; limit the sharing of personal and location information via social networks to people you consider your friends; and disable the geotagging of photos in applications like Facebook and Twitter.

We’re going to begin to see people ask themselves questions like, “How much information do I want to share about myself? How much do I want to be connected to others?” and start to manage these outlets more effectively.

“There are solutions to these deep personal data grabs, and we recommend consumers don’t continue using apps and programs that are turning personal identities and data into company gains. The increase in consumer backlash and concern is driving the rapid adoption of encrypted messaging platforms, like Wickr, and causing consumers to take a deeper look at private communications, a universal human right very important to free society,” advised Wickr team.

It comes back to whether or not social networks are really changing our personality. The most proactive approach moving forward is to encourage a culture of self-responsibility and education, where they are aware that the more information they give up the less privacy they have.