I recently read an article bemoaning the fact that Facebook uses data gathered by your actions on its site as a means for assessing which commercial adverts to show you. It also went on to declare shock and horror about the number of apps that use your Facebook login to gain information about you and your friends, the places you go, the food you eat and what your favourite cocktail is.
What surprises me is that people are shocked by this. If Facebook and other such companies didn’t gather insightful information for its advertising partners, the data would have no value and therefore the advertisers wouldn’t pay. Facebook is a business with shareholders who want to make money out of their investment. It is in a unique position that approx. 1.5 billion people all over the world want to use it as a platform for telling their friends, family, acquaintances about their every move and meal meaning that Facebook has a rare ability to know more about us than we know about ourselves. If it wasn’t for the boosted posts, the paid for adverts and the sponsored links, we as users would have to pay to use Facebook! How much would you be prepared to pay to keep the ability to share status updates with friends, check in at your favourite restaurant, inform your world that ‘it must be 5 o’clock somewhere’, show your geographically distant family pictures of your children doing cutely comical things and generally show off your life to those who matter most to you?
Consider music sharing sites such as Spotify, you can have the free version and have to listen to some adverts every once in awhile. These don’t seem to be targeted, but they may be influenced by the music you’ve selected to listen to (the adverts selected for me will be based on what my 9 year old listens to!!) You can select to pay £10 per month to remove the adverts and access the ability to download your playlists. Where a business is being run, money needs to be made and one of the most valuable assets any business has these days is information, something which facebook has in abundance. I’m guessing that if Facebook said that it would remove the adverts but that everyone who used it had to pay £10 per month, the number of users would drop dramatically even though the cost is less than a round of drinks in the pub these days.
It seems it’s not so much about cost as value. If it’s given to us for free we place no value on it. The same could be said for art and culture in the form of free libraries, museums and galleries. We don’t value them or the service they have provided until they are either taken away or someone starts charging for entrance. Technology needs to be viewed in the same way. Facebook, and other social media platforms upon which we have all become reliant, need to be paid for by someone and if it’s not you directly then they have to make their commercial offering attractive enough so that businesses will want to pay for what they have.
The thing with Facebook is that you are and always have been in control. Whenever you post a status update, photo, video or tell your friends how you’re feeling at that exact point in time, you can change the audience. When you sign up to an app using your Facebook login because let’s face it, it’s much easier than having to remember loads of usernames and passwords (thanks Facebook for making our lives easier), you can select who will see your posts, only you, friends or public. You are fully informed about how your data will be used (not that anyone ever reads the user agreement but the information will be there). You can change your preferences and privacy at any time by using your settings keeping you completely in control, it’s your decision. Just as the decision is yours as to whether to visit the local art gallery and museum, the ability to choose what data and how it’s shared is yours and, at the end of the day, if you really don’t like it, you can always come off Facebook!