The Boiled Frogs of Social Media: A Rant on Transparency, Revenues and Responsibility
Just a few days ago, I receive notice from Instagram that they were accelerating the shutdown of the bulk of their API features, including posting on user’s behalf, searching for results and subscribing to updates from particular users. Ostensibly this is to cut down on using these tools for nefarious reasons as Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, continues to reel from the impact of Cambridge Analytica using FB data to target US citizens with propaganda and potentially impact the election. There have been cries from users to move off Facebook, delete their profiles, and move their peeps to another network. Most famously, Will Ferrell has deleted his account. A corporate alumni group I am a member if is considering moving to Slack. For most everyone else, it is business as usual on the world’s largest social network. Mainly because the consumer privacy frogs have been boiled to death. Most consumers do not realize that when they use Facebook or other social network accounts to log in to new websites, they are sharing their entire social graph with that site. That is how Cambridge Analytica, buying data through a Cambridge researcher and other channels, was able to capture the details of 87 million Americans. Most users do not know what they are signing up for, how their data is being used, and click through privacy updates faster than Las Vegas retirees at penny slots.
Most users do not know what they are signing up for, how their data is being used, and click through privacy updates faster than Las Vegas retirees at penny slots.
What we see on the backend, where the social sausage is made, is that firms like Instagram and Twitter are changing what data people can get access to as the horror of what is possible is moving from the dark web to public headlines. Twitter, a few weeks ago, started shutting down so called “TweetDeckers,” accounts that build and maintain a captured set of followers to artificially amplify their message across that social network. Facebook moved their public search api behind their firewall and provided curated access through data provider Datasift a few years ago, mixing public and private in a way so that marketers could target ads more broadly but have less access to the details of who they are targeting.
What we have not yet seen from these firms is more transparency to their users as to what is going on. Twitter did not market the fake influencers on their network as Tweetdeckers, they just suspended their accounts, most only temporarily. Many of these offenders just opened new accounts, both to continue their operations as usual and to complain to their tribe of followers (mostly bots) that they were wronged by Twitter. Our own analysis at Argus Insights found that most of the content in B2B discussions on Twitter are published by compromised accounts. In the Internet of Things market alone, 75% of the content published is from accounts compromised in some way, yet we see nothing from Twitter to help sort the wheat from the chaff. Spammers use Twitter’s API to drop in latitude and longitude information to boost their discovery in local search results. (It is hilarious to see Tweets published from the geographic center of Palo Alto, evidently published from a phone located inside the concrete walls of one of the buildings there).
If plutonium can be used to craft weapons of mass destruction, social data can be used to build and deploy weapons of mass disruption.
It’s an arms race, I know, trying to keep up with how people will leverage tools for both good and evil. By the very nature of Silicon Valley, we want to build more tools, more API’s to share even more data, because that level of transparency is good, right? If plutonium can be used to craft weapons of mass destruction, social data can be used to build and deploy weapons of mass disruption. And here’s the thing, just like arms dealers making bank selling weapons to both sides of battles in small African countries, the social networks make their quarters (fiscal and literal) by the volume of advertising running on their platforms. I do not begrudge these firms making benjamins on my eyeballs. I understand they are turning my social capital into financial capital. But as a buyer of advertising, I want to make sure I get what I pay for.
They paid good money to reach prospects, not chickens, which is what they got instead.
Imagine if CBS Interactive charged billboard advertisers for space for the 101 freeway in Silicon Valley based on the number of chickens making their way from LA to Napa? Chickens have eyeballs, they are the target market since they are on the freeway in Silicon Valley. Why should Chipotle or Saleforce.com cry foul if CBS Interactive charges a premium for reaching an tract 30 million eyeballs a month? This is the equivalent of the debacle we call social advertising today. I had a client whose ad campaign netted over 43,000 new followers for their account. Of those new followers, less than 200 had participated in their market in the last six months. They paid good money to reach prospects, not chickens, which is what they got instead. The social firms can maintain and grow their business if they do a better job of ensuring the quality of their networks, and provide metrics beyond fake followers and fake reach.
And tell their users how their data is being used. Make it transparent how the data is being used to target users to the mutual benefit to advertises, the platform and users. We watch TV, we know need to see ads. Heck, we watch the Superbowl because of the ads! We read the paper, we see ads, we search in Google, we see ads. We know we pay for things with our attention.
- Social networks are working behind the scenes to make it harder to misuse their data and tool but will always fall behind the arms race of nefarious actors peddling influence
- Consumers have had their privacy concerns boiled out of them but still need to be made away (in simple language) the impact of their actions
- Advertisers should demand higher quality targeting of people, not chickens along with better metrics of success or failure of campaigns
- Someone has or will recommend that Blockchain and/or Artificial Intelligence will solve all of these problems if you just gave them enough funding…