Social and Online Media Need Privacy Plan Now October 25, 2010Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
Tags: Advertising, online advertising, targeted advertising
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Privacy isn’t just Facebook’s problem. In fact, the whole consumer Internet and media industry had better get its collective act together on the privacy front or get ready to face serious consumer backlash and, perhaps worse, government regulation.
For the second time this year, Facebook is at the center of a privacy controversy. Many apps on the network have been transmitting Facebook user IDs to third parties, some of which are data aggregators or miners that create profiles of users or groups and sell them to marketers. This user ID leakage was the same problem Facebook “fixed” in May.
Although wiser heads pointed out that both times represented fairly common practices online, and that personal email addresses are potentially much more dangerous in terms of identifying and exposing consumers, the stuff hit the fan. “Is Facebook evil or merely incompetent?” asked one critic. Has it “lost control of its platform?” wondered another.
Consumers Care — At Least They Say They Do
Regardless of their behavior as consumers, many say they care about privacy. A Zogby poll showed that 87 percent of respondents were concerned with the security of their personal information online, and 80 percent were bothered by advertisers tracking them. In another survey, 96 percent said online companies shouldn’t be allowed to share or sell personal information to third parties without permission — though nearly half admitted they don’t read privacy policies. And if they’re annoyed enough, consumers will take action: The Federal Trade Commission says that 200 million phone numbers have been registered in its Do Not Call registry that clamps down on telemarketers.
What’s at Risk for the Industry?
Social media companies should be wary of potential government regulation. If legislators were to impose strict rules on information sharing or opt-in practices, the usefulness for consumers and companies of social graphs could be drastically reduced.
And then there’s advertising.
Alcohol advertising on television, for instance, is self-regulated; it’s the TV networks’ own standards that kept booze off the non-cable airwaves until recently. It’s not illegal to promote liquor, just the networks playing it safe. In contrast, advertising on kids’ TV shows is a matter of law, as is the tobacco advertising ban that’s been in place since 1971.
Members of Congress are questioning Facebook on its current snafu. They’re the same ones that went after the “zombie cookies” highlighted by the Wall Street Journal. Even before that, online privacy bills had been proposed in the House, and European regulators are passing fresh proposals around the European Commission. I doubt the online media industry wants to rely on congressmen understanding the nuances between zombies and other cookies — a ban on cookies would completely destroy ad targeting and optimization.
How Should the Industry Respond?
The online media industry needs to rev up its lobbyists (Google spent $1.2 million on lobbying this quarter; Facebook $120,000), explain what’s going on to legislators and to the public, and seriously consider self-regulation. Additionally, social media companies should:
- Explain what they’re already doing with consumer information, and not just on developer blogs. These stories need to be on home pages and in ad campaigns.
- Go after real bad guys publicly. Facebook, for instance, is suing spammers.
- Use the publicized information outlined in the first two points to create a set of best practices and an audited seal of approval.
- Use an organization like the Online Publisher’s Association — rather than the Internet Advertising Bureau or the Direct Marketing Association — as a hub for public campaigns. It would be better PR coming from the publishers, who shouldn’t be afraid to play the “democracy needs a viable press, and the press needs viable advertising” card.
It would be too hard for Facebook to “give up on privacy” and expose all existing posted information everywhere, with the idea that its users would gradually move that info into a new, “private Facebook.” Longer-term, we may see consumers evolve private and public identities, but the industry can’t count on that right now.
Question of the week
Why Facebook “Groups” Matters October 11, 2010Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
Tags: app ecosystems, application ecosystems, applications, presence management, unified communications
The digerati’s reaction to last week’s Facebook announcement was entirely too focused on privacy. That’s partly Facebook’s fault, as the company presented the three new offerings under the headline of returning control to the user. But one of those offerings, Facebook Groups, is less about keeping secrets than it is about making the Facebook experience more relevant, and thus valuable.
Groups is the big deal in this three-pronged announcement, even if its initial implementation is very basic. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Groups a “fundamental building block of the social web” because it’s so much more like reality. The resulting blocks could have a big impact on communications and identity management, and on viral application and content distribution as well.
Can Facebook Jump-Start Groups Adoption?
Before Groups makes a big impact, people will first have to use it. I agree with Zuckerberg: Most people don’t want to interact in the exact same way with all 135 (or 250 or 1,000) of their “friends.” In the real world, individuals belong to multiple groups based on things like shared interests, geography and family; if Facebook users put their online friends in groups, more relevant communications and experiences are likely to result. This would increase Facebook’s value, and with that, its usage. That’s the theory anyway.
Prior to Groups, Facebook users organized their friends by creating lists. But only 5 percent of Facebook users make lists; most make only one, according to the social network. In contrast, the company says, while the majority of users don’t upload photos regularly, 95 percent have a photo of themselves that’s been tagged. The “power taggers” do most of the work. And while many of the tagged remain passive, the point is that they’re included in the dialogue. Facebook believes Groups will repeat this pattern, eventually leading to 80 percent coverage of users. That’s also why Groups invitations are opt-out — to the consternation of some — at least in the service’s initial implementation.
What Groups Is Really About
If Groups’ adoption becomes widespread, those aforementioned “building blocks” could generate powerful results inside and outside of Facebook. Groups are woven into the Graph API; apps can make use of Groups. And Facebook intends membership and interaction to be syndicate-able outside of Facebook, similar to its Like button or log-in.
So where could Groups make real waves?
- Feed filtering and curation. Users will filter their Facebook news feed — that includes aggregated updates from Twitter, Foursquare, and others — by Groups. This could prove more efficient than using search or topical taxonomies. It could also give Facebook more advertising inventory that’s targetable by highly relevant information.
- Identity management. Users will be able to engage in social media interactions in the appropriate contextual modes. Imagine Groups for shopping, entertainment recommendations, professional communications, etc. Groups could essentially offer federated authorization (among members) to different apps and services.
- Unified communications and presence management. Groups could enable better presence management — you’re available only to after-work friends, for example — than we’ve seen in email or IM applications.
- App interaction and distribution. Facebook recently changed its social gaming policies to better direct relevant updates to gamers instead of non-gamers. Similarly, Groups could filter and enhance social commerce and other applications.
Who Should Pay Attention?
Marketers can’t make Groups, just Pages. But don’t think Facebook won’t develop appealing promotions and targeting techniques for its own advertising platform. I doubt advertisers will ever be able to target individual Groups. The contextual information within the content of Groups, however, should produce topics and keywords that would be a very accurate representation of interest — catnip for advertisers.
Companies that provide content aggregation (Yahoo, Digg, Yelp) and/or real-time information streams (Twitter), or add value on top of those streams (Google, TweetDeck, Seesmic) may need to counter or support Groups. Otherwise they risk being just one less-useful and less-monetizeable feed in a Facebook viewer.
Facebook does not offer robust enough security or content/communication management features to threaten enterprise collaboration players like Microsoft, Salesforce.com, or Box.net. Lighter-weight services like Yammer should keep alert, though.
Related Research: Four Ways Facebook can Conquer Mobile
Question of the week
But It’s Not Even About Facebook… October 3, 2010Posted by David Card in Media.
Besides being the best live-action movie I’ve seen this year, “The Social Network” is attracting commentary along the lines of “captures the zeitgeist,” “portrait of the decade,” and all sorts of pondering about what it says about our digital society. The thing is, “The Social Network” is more about old-fashioned, meat-world style social networks than it is about Facebook.
Sure, the movie is aware of the irony that Facebook was created by a guy with no social skills and no network of his own. That’s why it’s titled as it is, and not called “The Accidental Billionaire.” It’s a really well-told tale about class, obsession, and betrayal, but it’s not about Internet social networking. That’s just the MacGuffin.
Still, how you react to the movie – and to its portrayal of (anti-)hero Mark Zuckerberg – probably depends a bit on what you already felt about Facebook before you bought your ticket. David Denby suggests in the New Yorker that there’s a creative tension between writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher:
In this extraordinary collaboration, the portrait of Zuckerberg, I would guess, was produced by a happy tension, even an opposition, between the two men—a tug-of-war between Fincher’s gleeful appreciation of an outsider who overturns the social order and Sorkin’s old-fashioned, humanist distaste for electronic friend-making and a world of virtual emotion.
Personally, I believe that Facebook is a hugely important force in online media, and probably in modern society. When Justin Timberlake – no way is S
ean “Napster” Fanning Sean Parker that cool – seduces Zuck with his vision of start-up greatness, well, count me in.
I’m willing to forgive a lot of asshole-ness in pursuit of such grand goals. I suspect a lot of nerds will agree. Though it’s not about technology, this movie will launch a thousand start-ups.