The recent torrent of Facebook backlash strewn about the media world presents an interesting, and important, opportunity for introspect.
It was a very short ago when Internet users were primarily concerned with protecting identity critical information such as passwords, account information, etc… This should remain a concern obviously, but there is a new layer to online privacy that is no less provocative, and perhaps no less dangerous.
The ongoing Facebook woes demonstrate that the activity information related to online identities is equally as valuable.
What internet users do online, where they go, and specifically what they like and share is continuing to increase in value to advertisers, marketers, and online publishers. A few short years ago this was little more than a rumble to most ‘aware’ online citizens. Yet, back then, users were no where near as engaged, connected, or entrenched in online activity.
The massive swell in rich social media over the last several years has inevitably created an equal swell in activity. Further, that activity continues to push the boundaries of what is private and what one is willing to share in terms of their identity.
Five years ago most users would have thought very carefully before commenting openly on a political or business article online. Today it is second nature. When MySpace began to grow virally, there was very little ‘real’ information being shared by users. Profiles were made up personas that probably had very little reflection of the reality of their owners. Facebook changed that. The premise was simple – share what you like because you control the access to those items directly. As a result, behavior began to change.
In a recent interview with Kojo Nnamdi of WAMU, Chief of Public Policy at Facebook, Mr. Tim Sparapani, made some very interesting comments about the matter including stating that “There’s a deep-seated psychological need people have to explain themselves and put their best sense of themselves forward for people on the worldwide web to see, we’re allowing them to do that; we’re creating tools for that to happen.”
Mr. Sparapani went on to characterize Instant Personalization, a new Facebook feature, as “….an extraordinary gift to the public.” These statements seem to characterize Facebook as a charitable and giving organization, and in many ways perhaps they are. However, they are also currently valued at approximately $22 billion. They are no longer that small network of ‘connected’ colleges. They are a business. The Business Insider reported recently on an alleged IM conversation Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, engaged in when he was 19 years old and his small network was just beginning to grow. Within this conversation he characterizes his group of users as “dumb” because they willingly share personal information with no solicitation. He goes on to say that he has no idea why. All in all, very telling and ironic.
The challenge for users is that beyond the various opportunities to spend money, or “Credits” on the site for extra content and virtual items, what exactly are they selling?
The answer is beginning to become obvious – they are selling you. At least in as much as what you do, what you like, and what you engage in online.
In itself, there is nothing inherently illegal or otherwise immoral about this as long as it is expressed clearly to you the user prior to, and during, your use of the platform. This ‘use of information’ seems to have become the price of entry for the service social platforms provide. Google, Twitter, MySpace, Microsoft, and other proprietors all engage in one form or another of leveraging the data they collect for revenue.
What is now in question for internet users, casual and fanatical alike, is whom to entrust with not only your valuable information – but the responsibility that accompanies the stewardship of that data? Is there a company with the integrity and responsibility in the current social media landscape that is worthy?
Regardless of the answer, the time has come to be mindful and aware regarding online activity and sharing. It belongs to you and you should recognize when, and to whom, you are awarding that commodity.