Amidst the Super Bowl, occasionally super commercials, and super groundhogs having their day, it was easy to overlook some major privacy news: Facebook knows a lot about you, and they’re going to sell it.
According to an article in the London-based Telegraph, Facebook is planning to “exploit the vast amount of personal information it holds by creating one of the world’s largest market research databases.”
Facebook, according to reporters Rupert Neate and Rowena Mason, was demonstrating the real-time data benefits of its new instant polling application at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland.
The Telegraph is known as being one of the most future-forward newspaper companies in the world. Facebook users are known for adding immense amounts of personal information – that will be used to make a profit for the social networking giant.
Today, some marketing databases can connect names with income and even the furniture you’ve purchased, right down to the color and style. This data can be used to identify prospective buyers within a “universe” who match a specific buying profile. This can target buyers to a different specific product. Companies can then market directly to those who are most likely to consider their product.
The article states that “Companies will be able to pose questions to specially selected members based on such intimate details as whether they are single or married and even whether they are gay or straight.”
Consider what you’ve told Facebook, and how it has enriched your life. You’ve used it to connect and communicate with new and old friends alike. You’ve used it to support people and causes as well as products that you like. You’ve updated your status with what makes you happy, sad and anxious. Maybe you’ve added applications to identify your favorite food, movies or sports teams. Perhaps you have even listed “25 Random Things” on your Facebook profile. And just because you’ve erased something, doesn’t mean it’s gone.
The article does not state what Facebook will and won’t use in the data pool, nor have I contacted Facebook to ask.
According to TechCrunch, one in five Internet users in the world uses Facebook. Twenty-five million of them are mobile users, and that number is growing quickly according to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at a panel in Davos.
This will give Facebook an unbelievable breadth of real-time data, and provide you an increasing voice in companies around the world.
There is a growing worldwide interest in harnessing the power of the collective “word of mouth” to drive corporate decisions. The better social media companies become in collecting and quantify real-time opinions, the more sellable their product becomes. The result will be that companies can take appropriate action to make consumers happier. And it’s already happening.
The Telegraph cited that British confection giant Cadbury reversed their decision to retire the Wispa chocolate bar. Individuals started and maintained Facebook campaigns to bring Wispa back, and collected more than 40,000 signatures in the process. Cadbury has sold more than 70 million bars since its reintroduction.
Twitter, YouTube and other social networks have already affected many companies. Ford, Dell, and Zappos have seen positive results, and it created headaches for Motrin.
Companies that are listening in the social media realm are better prepared to react to the evolving needs of their customers.
The other side of this is that companies can ruthlessly mine every ounce of data they know about you and correlate it with other purchased lists to create a microprofile. What implications could this type of data have on you getting affordable insurance, home loans or even your children’s ability to get into college?
This is only a part of the larger move from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy. There are benefits to be had by the corporation and the consumer. Managing the rights of each will be difficult, and perhaps impossible to enforce at a country level. Marketing, after all, is becoming global in scope.
Facebook has the opportunity to be the model in fairness, and we have the obligation to have our say, using the forums available to us – including social media – of what we believe to be fair.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation, and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.