Facebook is not the problem, we are

As a business owner who's business is built on understanding what audiences want, who they are and how to reach them in innovative ways, I am conflicted by the public response, scrutiny and struggled to watch Mark Zuckerberg face Congress today.

Equally, it was difficult to watch Congress pose simplistic questions that indicated a lack of understanding around how complex this new world they are trying to monitor is.

With the analysis and data made available to them, including the Facebook founder in person, it is likely that if they cannot even truly grasp what to do, then every day users and advertisers have minimal hope unless they accept the onus is on them to be aware of what digital platforms they use and how, considering how much information is in the public domain.

The Cambridge Analytica data breach may have brought to light the reality behind cybersecurity and our data, including the admission that Facebook scans the private messages, images and links we send to each other daily as a replacement to our use of text messaging, or, God-forbid, actually calling someone.

It was finally the impetus for The Australian Privacy commissioner launching a formal investigation into Facebook. But then what?

This is not the first example of data being misused in connection to Facebook and a lack of transparency to users.

A handful of examples include a German court ruling that Facebook's use of data is illegal and does not adequately secure the informed consent of it's users.

In 2017, France's privacy watchdog ordered WhatsApp to stop sharing data with Facebook. In 2013, Facebook admitted to exposing over 6million users email addresses and phone numbers with Facebook.

#DeleteFacebook is a trending hashtag with users suggesting they connect only on Twitter or Instagram. Facebook owns Instagram, Twitter similarly collects data about us and tracks in much the same as Facebook does. 

In 2017, when a writer for The Guardian and Tinder user requested her personal data under the EU Data Protection Law, she received 800 pages of data. 800 pages of data that helps create a picture around who she is, what she likes and what she doesn’t like.

Similarly, when I personally delve into the data Facebook has on me, I can see how they advertise and tailor their communications to me.

I have to admit, they are spot on, after 11 years of my being a part of the platform. It knows that I am more likely to consume content from TechCrunch than Mamamia, it's aware that my hobbies include going to the theatre and 'home' which I assume is their palatable way of saying I am too reclusive.

Embarrassingly, it knows how much I love watching RuPauls Drag Race and documentaries and it even states the pages I am most likely to engage with on Facebook (Financial Review, The Forward, AdAge, Innovative and agile memes, Michio Kaku, Pug pages and Macquarie Bank).

It never shows me any advertising associated with babies, toddlers or weddings. It gets some things wrong, such as the suggestion to check out Ribs and Rumps (I am a pescetarian) and it also says I would like live shows currently available in Melbourne (I live in Sydney, and hate going to concerts/festivals). It's not perfect, but it's fairly accurate.

The knowledge they have means that the advertising I am exposed to on a probability scale is fairly likely to be spot on. It means that advertisers have a lower probability of wasting their money on me with products and services I have no interest in.

We live in an age where targeting users accurately and with verified data sources is the holy grail, and we use these platforms for free. That is the price.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently addressed these exact issues and stated that if users want total privacy and to truly ensure secured encrypted activity then the platform would likely have to implement a paid model.

I am unsure of how many of the two billion-plus active Facebook users would pay for acces to their friends and family (and to see what their high school friends ate for dinner).

Today, Foxtel's CMO Andy Lark suggested marketers stop sponsoring Facebook.

Marketers need access to audiences, this won't happen any time soon and I am yet to meet a marketer who is overly concerned with how much data they can have on audiences - considering the problems around ad-fraud, bots and digital wastage.

If we are going to start playing in the space of full transparency, Facebook is not our only issue. Marketers have to grapple with fake ad impressions, pixel stuffing, ad stacking. The issues around data and fraud are simply not unique to Facebook

Holding one platform that’s managed a monopoly using similar practices to Twitter, Tinder, Amazon, Google and even Dominos is misguided.

The economic value of personal data is the real issue here, as well as the realisation that so few industry leaders know what is really going on.

The onus is on both users and advertisers just as much as those wielding the levers.

Alexandra Tselios is the CEO and publisher of The Big Smoke.

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