Sexuality, political leanings and even intelligence are, according to Researchers at Cambridge University, just some of what can be gleaned from your trail of ‘likes’ on the social networking site. Campaigners have reacted angrily to the study which, once again, highlights the privacy issues at the heart of most of the company’s negative publicity.
A year ago I wrote a blog describing a similar image problem encountered by Target as their data scientists were left holding the baby having, through highly sophisticated data analysis, found out that a very young, very Christian shopper was pregnant before her father did. By couponing her for baby accessories they let the cat out of the bag and the story went global very quickly thanks to journalist and writer Charles Duhigg.
The paradox of course is that Facebook loves your data. It needs it. Data drives almost everything it does and monetising that data is the key to the company’s long term success. Given that the ROI from its original advertising platform is reported to be up to 200 times lower than that of Google search, more or at least better use of data might help. Strong investment in mobile advertising is attempting to win back investors burned by the inflated IPO however given most users are not in ‘shopper mode’ when on the site I would suggest that there are some bigger strategic issues to be addressed. Whatever happens, the use of user data will play a huge role in the companies continued quest for a profitable, sustainable and scalable business model.
For the moment, where user data goes privacy concerns will ultimately follow. The big data gatherers out there must strive for transparency up front and refrain from shifting the goalposts too often in order to build trust with end users. Users can participate by accepting that nothing really comes for free, especially not something as universally popular as Facebook.