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Facebook – Big Data – Our Privacy

Facebook – Big Data – Our Privacy

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the 2012 Privacy Identity and Innovation conference (PII 2012)  in Seattle.

My on-going observation of privacy and identity actually revolves around the connection point of big data and how corporate entities are trying to monetize it.

We need to realize the concepts behind how businesses use our personal data affects the very way we make choices as individuals.

Google doesn’t just connect us with content.
It affects our perception of content

Facebook doesn’t just connect us with friends.
It affects our perception of friends.

Big Data isn’t just about our purchase decisions or where we are, it has to do with every data point that we can create or interact with. It could be anything from the time of day we decide to e-mail our loved ones or the list of people we share with online. Big data also interacts with the information we don’t always think about or fully comprehend: our location, our mood, our activity, our habits.

The attendees at PII 2012 clearly identified that even developers and industry experts who have been dealing with the topic for five to ten years had a limited perspective on how personal data would be monetized.

So how did PII 2012 relate to big data?

The audience highlighted that there are multiple gaps between

  • consumers that create data
  • developers for platforms collecting data
  • businesses trying to monetizing data
  • ethics, morality, legality, and common sense
  • the concepts of who owns this data

These gaps are being magnified by dozens of different factors that include such topics as:

  • Profit
  • Privacy
  • Marketing
  • Employment
  • Legal
  • Government

The Real Problem with Big Data

The core issue with the topic of big data is that it is hard to define, nearly everywhere, and lacks a repetitive structure.

To understand how big data works you need a holistic sense of strategy and a developed understanding of tactical applications across multiple areas. If you can’t think big and handle the details in the same thought; you are probably going to have a hard time understanding how big data connects to your business opportunities.

Big data creates an opportunity for very complex business strategies to affect our individual behaviors.

Using a Facebook Example

The simple truth is that Facebook is a huge collection of personal information: as the most popular social network Facebook is one of the few companies that has collected a tremendous amount of “big data” revolving around our personal lives.

As Facebook is now a publicly traded company it is forced into monetizing our personal expectations of privacy and identity through multiple profit models and numerous government processes.

An IPO is only a launching phase for the Facebook organization to return profits to share holders by collecting, analyzing, and monetizing our personal data.

Why is Facebook about “Big Data”

Facebook has amassed the largest collection of personal data ever created (with Google laying claim to some pretty significant databases about us too…)

You could add up all credit cards, phone records, and governmental data all day long and still not have the type of data Facebook collects on a daily basis.

But what would you do with all that data???

(perhaps monetize it when your shareholders want to see profits…)

How do you monetize Facebook big data?

Facebook first has to establish a critical mass of users (done!)

Then it has to look at areas where it can sell marketing intelligence without breaching copyright or privacy laws.

If we think about how the general user interacts with copyright or privacy issues, we can get some good insights to how material is presented in either a simple or confusing manner:

Copyright law fairly well understood… we know the monetary value of most copyrighted material.

Privacy law is entirely confusing…  no one really knows what it is all about.

How does Government play in Big Data?

If we know that copyright law protects certain assets from being monetized by Facebook, the logical business decision is to drive revenue from mis-understood privacy issues and unregulated opportunities.

When you combine where obvious business decisions need to be made, where regulation is at its weakest, and the demand of stock holders to see profit/ROI…

You have a perfect storm waiting for abuse of Big Data.

 Does Big Data need Regulation?

The Facebook IPO creates two simple marketplace questions:

How does Facebook make money?

It will sell our information to marketers and brands. It will slowly develop more subtle ways for brands to affect our purchase decisions based of subtle changes to the way we communicate with our social networks. Facebook will spend a significant amount of its operating budget to lobby government regulators in multiple countries to avoid privacy laws that impact its ability to monetize our data.

What if Facebook died today?

If Facebook died today it would be a cascading business failure: thousands of businesses would immediately suffer financial impacts in the form of lost revenue, the inability to engage client lists, and training cost to re-adopt other platforms. This cascading failure would ultimately lead to the downfall of several larger companies and the eco-system that revolves around it.  It would be an online version of the Enron story.

Who owns this type of Big Data?

In my opening bullet points I said there were some gaps…

  • consumers that create data
  • developers for platforms collecting data
  • businesses trying to monetizing data
  • ethics, morality, legality, and common sense
  • the concepts of who owns this data

In copyright law people who create something also own it.

In privacy and big data… apparently corporations get multi-billion dollar IPOs off it.

If you want to research more about Big Data I recommend the following articles.

They will grow your understanding of big data and why it is collected, analyzed, and monetized.

If you have questions about the business models or simply want to engage in an educated conversation, drop a note below!

2 replies
  1. DeeCee
    DeeCee says:

    It is more than merely Facebook having such features as auto-sharing (frictionless sharing) and similar. More than just setting your privacy and sharing options in Facebook. That is small-potatoes in the larger game.

    Reality is, that Facebook web-crawlers follow you around on every web-page you visit to analyze and build your extended profile, interest-graph, and whatever else technology allows to extract from reading everything you read. Any page with an active Share/Like button. Others, like LinkedIn are beginning to follow right behind.

    NOTE: This is independent of your privacy settings. By their agreements you have already agreed to both this use of data and any other they might see profitable in the future.

    I am personally not really comfortable with any company saving away a database of EVERYTHING I might have been interested in. Building profiles of all ones preferences, political leanings, product preferences, and anything else that can be cleaned from your web-history. I am even less comfortable with who else might in the future get access to all that data.

    To anyone out there: Check your own web-history and make some guesses on how others might interpret it, if they could get their hands on it and magically analyze it like Facebook/LinkedIn and others can do. Or how its information could possibly be used, if someone that did not necessarily have your best at heart got to interpret it.

    Also keep in mind that Facebook’s entire business model depends on how much they know about us. The more they can gather about us, the more revenue they might be able to make for their new Wall-Street friends and shareholders.

    See http://riskyinternet.com/part-1-social-networks-tracking-your-internet-slime-trail/

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