Where'd the "social graph" exploitation parade go?

11 years ago
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So in case you missed the news, Facebook's Beacon has been refactored into an opt-in program, making it, of course, much less interesting to the marketeer forces eager to monetize our friendships. And so the pro-Beacon lemmings have realized nobody's following them.

And so it begins: People starting to realize what "free" services really mean. I wonder at how clueless Facebook was about this.

Pip Coburn's theory:

[H]ow in the world is a company with $150mm in revenues that is fooling itself that it REALLY has a value of $15bn – I think that is a 100x revenue multiple – going to double its value other than seriously pushing the envelope with its users. If the choices are (1) subscription and (2) ads and subscription isn’t working so much for them that leaves, well, ads....

...Think the advertisers reeeaaaallly wanted an opt-in strategy where you have to sign everyone up or do you think they would be happy saying “let’s spam everyone because the opportunity to advertise is WAY too good here to risk that people won’t sign up in droves…”.. my guess: they may have picked the spam now and apologize if it doesn’t work and somehow people get upset. And low and behold the folks at Facebook are apologizing today.


50,000 complaints sounds like a lot but from Facebook’s user base -- last I saw 55mm users (probably low) – isn’t so overwhelming at all....

...The long tail is running the Internet. A portion of the long tail cared enough about opt-in and privacy in combination and used all their might in a very short time to burn a company at the stake but managed to inspire a mere .1% of users to care. But THAT was enough.

Beware the power of the long tail!!

Yes, the elite. Or should I say l33t? Of course, at the foundation of this sarcastic argument is the conceit that we all have an equal voice, that we each have one vote in the matter. Never mind that sometimes, just sometimes, the few are influencing the many. That sometimes, just sometimes, when others are looking the other way, the few may just have a point. Look at political leaders. Okay, maybe not those people. Look at reporters of yore like Edward R. Murrow. Look at media stars like Oprah. Sometimes .1% can carry the argument. Sometimes one person.

Mary Hodder posits this:

One, there are a lot of studies on privacy issues that show that most people don't want to spend the time to understand or defend it, but if one percent of the populace, that the other 99% cede their interest in privacy to and are trusted, express distrust of something, the other 99% will follow. Chris Kelly, privacy czar at Facebook, has conducted some of those studies and therefore probably saw the tipping point coming and urged retreat. Just a guess, but that was my interpretation of what Facebook may have been discussing internally.

Facebook's attempts to quantify and monetize selective exploitation of people's privacy don't stand alone, either. For example, Google is making a new push against the Do-No-Evil envelope.

Unlike Facebook, where you have to actively add friends, Google Profiles tries to figure out who its users' friends are. One way it will do that is by deeming everyone you exchange messages with a friend. This can have obnoxious consequences.

Your new Google friends, to use VentureBeat's example, can tell which stories you're sharing with other users in Google Reader. Most of us talk to our frenemies as much as our friends over IM and email. What better way to taunt the competition? This social nuance, of course, is lost on Google.

Isn't that reassuring?

Seriously, though, what I see are reactions couched in theories embedded in attitudes. What I don't see is the simple recognition that Facebook's Beacon represented an attempt at a paradigm shift in not only advertising potentials but, on the flip side, invasion of people's basic sense of privacy in their lives.

When I go to Facebook or BlogHer or my own blog, I am deliberately reaching out and sharing. But when I am home, alone, ordering a book on the internet, I am being private. To try to rip that line between the two apart -- with a one-off opt-out, no less -- is nothing less than an advertising insurgency. People squawked. Okay, maybe it was only a tiny fraction of the total user base. But Facebook can than the stars that they did, because otherwise what would have happened was a slow emigration away.

Nobody wants their pocket picked for nothing. Nobody wants to expose their private lives by default. I don't feel it doesn't take magnificent insight to see this ... to have seen it clear as day back when Beacon was announced.

But maybe in a world where business is transacted less like a county fair and more like a debutante ball, we should expect the dazzled eyes and impaired judgment when big cash is flashed by the new money in town.

As Mary says:

When I tell 15 year olds about privacy issues, they get pretty scared and conservative about protecting it. So my anecdotal evidence is that they care more than most older folks think. For now, many just don't understand and see what effect they are having over time.

Ah, but to be able to sign them up for revolving credit....

Only today, Pew published some new stats about that target market:

Girls continue to dominate most elements of content creation. Some 35% of all teen girls blog, compared with 20% of online boys, and 54% of wired girls post photos online compared with 40% of online boys. Boys, however, do dominate one area - posting of video content online. Online teen boys are nearly twice as likely as online girls (19% vs. 10%) to have posted a video online somewhere where someone else could see it.

The survey found that content creation is not just about sharing creative output; it is also about participating in conversations fueled by that content. Nearly half (47%) of online teens have posted photos where others can see them, and 89% of those teens who post photos say that people comment on the images at least "some of the time."

However, many teen content creators do not simply plaster their creative endeavors on the Web for anyone to view; many teens limit access to content that they share.

The competition to cash in on that generation, where few watch much television and so many are so particular about what spam noise is shoved into their faces, must be great. It's only natural to want to cash in on their whispers and friendships, right? Right?

So did Facebook's retreat mark any sort of epiphany in the private information market? I'm still skeptical. But Maggie Fox of Social Media Group looks on the bright side:

Facebook's Beacon misstep pushing privacy issues to the front of the line - it looks like people are finally starting to understand that their attention has value....

...I would really like to see more marketers and others understand that interest can't be measured by pageviews or clicks. It's a cognitive event (i.e., it happens in the brain), and even tracking people's behaviour with tools like Beacon is basically useless when it comes to judging interest or potential interest in a product. We need to develop more models that allow consumers to pull the messages they want - that's where the real value lies.

She sees privacy as the big issue now.

Privacy is a huge issue we've been ignoring because it's boring. Does anyone actually read the privacy policies of the social media sites they use? Beacon demonstrated that it's probably time to start. This will be a big one for '08, and it will change the way people interact and behave online.

I hope so. But I'm left wondering why so many who really should have known better are only now starting to figure this out.

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