Travails, By Facebook

March 30, 2018

“Executive Summary: We knew it was coming. Now what?”

Let me say, at the start, that I do not support policies — from anyone or organizations of any kind — that are designed to hurt humanity, destroy institutions, or reveal secrets. I use the word, “policy”, in this context because it formalizes a set of beliefs that engender bad behavior and compromises others.

I have no idea what is in Mark Zuckerberg’s mind, now or ever. Professionally, what I see is that he and the company have invented something that’s unprecedented, from the moment it was originally designed. Its ability to connect people from anywhere to anywhere, not unlike what Mark Penn described in MicroTrends Squared as ‘the Uber Economy’, has changed human behavior, forever. And, with that comes risk. Gigantic risk. And it disrupts in unimaginable and unplanned ways. I’m struggling with the possibility that they expected the outcomes and interactions that we’re seeing in the news cycle that’s pounding this. They made choices. Being in a business where data drives decisions, including financial success, puts pressure on the entire system; not just their own business, but all related parties.

The trouble with collecting data is that people – consumers – don’t really keep up with who has what information and how it’s used.

We’re watching and participating in this conversation as Facebook’s decisions are getting untangled and revealed. We’re all, somehow, directly affected, whether it’s the revelation that Android phone and text metadata has been scraped, or that they’ve just decided to eliminate third-party sources from their datasets. But, even these decisions are causing more questions and teeth-grinding. Could Tim Cook be any more ticked off? Apple made a choice when they launched the company and have largely stuck with it. Good choice, it seems. Amazon sure is quiet.

Is this a realization, evolution or revolution?

Gathering information about people’s interests, likes and dislikes, their friends, and using that data for business purposes, including advertising, isn’t original. Publishers, retailers, nonprofits, even school fundraisers have been using it since it was possible. Because gathering it happens so easily and fluidly, and a footprint, so to speak, gets retained, we all get anxious and question the virtuousness of the institutions that have it. It’s particularly true for digital data, because even no action is a piece of information. But, whether implicitly or explicitly so, we all understand the quid quo pro, that is, that often, we’re getting something of great value, for free. And, as long as what they know about us isn’t compromised, we maintain our trust. In fact, we’re willing to give more in return for even more value. And, this is Facebook’s proposition.

When what organizations know about us gets breached or misused, the trust is broken and we have to reconsider the relationship we signed up for.

The trouble with collecting data is that people – consumers – don’t really keep up with who has what information and how it’s used. That’s why inertia works in the favor of memberships and subscriptions, even term renewals for presidents and senators. It’s easier to continue as long as we’re getting the benefits. A lot of time, we don’t even care about all of the benefits, but it’s just damn hard to find the time to read a privacy policy and even cancel a gym membership.

When what organizations know about us gets breached or misused, the trust is broken and we have to reconsider the relationship we signed up for. This is now the case for Facebook’s over two billion users. As consumers, making that choice is our right. I expect many people will cut off their Facebook accounts and some advertisers may temporarily hold back their advertising dollars. So far, there hasn’t been an unusual, measurable decline as reported by eMarketer, though what advertisers ultimately choose to do should be entirely dependent on the actions and needs of their own individual audiences.

But, the hearings in Washington, and elsewhere globally, will keep the Cambridge Analytica story in people’s feeds and on CNN for weeks. Industry tech and data company CEOs are taking public positions for increased privacy protections including greater consumer awareness. Regulation, however, opens up a lot more questions, which brings us back to trust.

I mean, Trust. Capital T.

Who’s going to decide and what’s best for people’s lives is really the biggest question. Will it be industry, or people, ‘err “consumers”?

Facebook’s fate will be determined by it.

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