It’s time to get social on data

Dirk Wolbers
Jan 21, 2016 · 5 min read

As a social media specialist at Kramp I focus on the strategic usage of social media. Therefore I’m constantly involved with the most popular, influential, innovative, data driven, social media giants like Facebook and Google.
I do love how these social giants are enabling us, businesses and individuals, to fulfill our deeply embedded need for human connection. And although you can sometimes question the level of authenticity on these platforms, social media is providing tremendous opportunities to share world changing ideas, live news, open discussions, creative expressions and inspiring thoughts, with anyone on this planet, in a split second. An amazing fact by itself. The point I’m struggling with is the data driven business models behind the social giants and their lack in transparency.

As you probably know, all seemingly “free” social media services are aiming to generate as many users as possible. More users means: more data, more detailed personalized profiles, better targeted advertisements, more communication relevance, more advertisers, and yes… more money. But there are no boundaries on which personal data is being collected, analyzed and sold to others and therefore you can wonder if you yourself are still in control of your on privacy.

Importance of privacy

When you mention the words online privacy, you often hear responses in the range of “I have nothing to hide”.
But this is simply untrue since the “I” can’t exist without privacy. You are a human being with a unique personal character. Your character has to be secured by boundaries in communication in order to be maintained. If communication about your thoughts and emotions would always be out in the open, then you would not have a character and your personality, therfore the “I”, would simply not exist.
Now let’s take a quick look at the definition of privacy:
Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively”
So the question to arise: Are you able to seclude yourself or information about yourself when using social services, like, let’s say Facebook? (You have to accept the Facebook user agreement before you can use your Facebook profile) So let’s review just three of the many questionable terms and conditions by Facebook (source):

Example 1:
¨Just like when you share information by email or elsewhere on the web, information you share on Facebook can be re-shared. This means that if you share something on Facebook, anyone who can see it can share it with others, including the games, applications, and websites they use.
Your friends and the other people you share information with often want to share your information with applications to make their experiences on those applications more personalized and social.¨

Conclusion: The spread of your personal data also depends on the actions by your Facebook friends.

Example 2:
“we’re continuing to improve ads based on the apps and sites you use off Facebook and expanding your control over the ads you see.”
Conclusion: Facebook is storing a lot more data about you than just your activities on the Facebook platform. They’re also tracking your website visits and app usage (without you even being logged onto Facebook).

Example 3:
“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, such as photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP Licence). This IP Licence ends when you delete your IP content or your account, unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it”
Conclusion: By uploading photos or videos to Facebook you license Facebook to use your photos and they owe you nothing.

If you look back over the last couple of years. Things are not changing. Although the social giants are repeatedly mentioning how important they find your privacy, their actions show otherwise. And apart from ethics, why would they? Again, data stands for money.

What to do?

Asking social giants to stop collecting data would be the same as asking Shell to stop drilling for fossil fuels. Collecting data is the fundament of their bussiness models. Still, here are some actions we can take to get more control over our privacy:
1. Demand more transparency
Although social giant should be able to generate money via advertising model and therewith collecting personal data, more transparency about the exact usage and value of personal data would be an obvious step. Let’s not forget the fact that the social giant are promoting authenticity and transparent behavior (example), so why would not one take the lead by setting the right example?
First, provide us with easy understandable information about which data is being collected, to which third party it’s being sold and how it’s being used.
So I’m not talking about privacy control panels which would allow us to close all doors for data collection. I’m talking about simply providing more insights and therewith a better understanding on what companies are doing with our personal data.

2. Put a price on it
Give users an option to get rid of some/most/all ads by paying a monthly fee. Therewith you allow us to consider on which level we would like to give up our privacy in exchange for your services.
For sure, it would be a challenge to put a dollar sign on my peronal data. How much is my browsing history or my geographical data worth? But really, I’m confident you can pull this off.

3. Warning symbols
In the end, the power for real change lies on the side of the users. But since most users are not aware of the sophisticated levels of data collection and especially what this means to their privacy and personal lives, I think Governments should invest more in creating awareness and understanding.
In the Netherlands, companies who promote financial products like loans or equity funds, are obliged to warn customers actively via clearly prescribed warnings combined with a product risk indicator score (source).
So let’s have governments review and then tag social giant services on their data usage via easy recognizable warning symbols.

4. Education
Lets start early with education on what data collection really means, how it works and what you, as an individual, can do about it. From childhood on we should be educated about how data driven companies are supplying us with wonderful services, but against a serious price, called privacy.

5. Social on data
None of the above mentioned actions can be taken if we don’t talk about privacy. Therefore, most important, let’s start an open discussion with social giants, governments and users to find a balance in the world of social media, data and privacy. Lets get social on data!

What do you think? What should users, social giants and or governments do to guard our privacy? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Dirk Wolbers

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