Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent most of my adult life–and all of my professional career–working with large organizations, but I am not a data privacy alarmist. Most large organizations struggle with the basics of digital marketing and technology, never mind some vast conspiracy to manipulate the hearts and minds of the populace. It’s just too hard.
And I don’t have any issues with targeted marketing. In fact, I prefer it. As a friend of mine who is a noted expert in marketing science said, “That ad space inventory is going to be sold, it might as well be for something I might be interested in.” So yes, by all means…show me ads for turntables and men’s grooming products!
But this is something else. This is…alarming.
As we all know by now, a December 18 article in the New York Times laid bare what many of us have suspected for years, and it’s right there in the lede:
For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.
OK, that’s bad enough. Giving their partners a pass on privacy rules? That means they weren’t rules at all, and it certainly belies Facebook’s various attempts to position themselves as reformed privacy derelicts. I mean, just take a moment to watch Zuck’s apology in front of congress:
One might think that’s it! They get it! They’ll do better! Now, back to the NYT article:
Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.
Read that last bit again: “…and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.”
That’s not aggregate data or blind user journey tracking. That’s access to private, personal messages. And that, to me, was just too much.
So I quit. For a while. Kinda.
The same day that the New York Times article ran, I posted this:
And we had hit a turning point, or I had. I stopped posting and changed a bunch of my privacy settings. But I didn’t really leave Facebook, and I don’t know that I ever will. I became a lurker. I checked the site daily to see what’s going on, but I didn’t post anything save for a couple photos because of a linked Instagram account (another Facebook property, I know), and to answer a few questions via Messenger and some private groups. The truth is that a lot of my life is wrapped up in the platform, for worse or, as it seems, for better.
I just moved back to my hometown after 20 years living elsewhere. First in Chicago for about a decade, then in Portland for a decade more. I’ve not only left memories in those cities, but friends. Lots of close friends who I miss all the time. Facebook’s value to me as a user hasn’t changed; I really enjoy the small interactions I have with people hundreds and thousands of miles away. I see the pictures of their kids and their hikes and their new cars and yes…their lunches. All of it makes me feel closer to them. I’m not sure I can give that up.
I am also a digital strategist by profession and a musician by stubbornness. Those two worlds are meticulously intertwined in social media, including the biggest player on the cyber block. As it happens, I can’t afford to leave Facebook.
And so I am back, but will certainly be changing some behaviors. Core to a brand’s value is trust and I absolutely do not trust Facebook right now. And so I’ll work with them as I would anyone I don’t really trust: carefully.