Here is my column published in the September 2012 issue of Wired UK, the best magazine I know to keep an eye on what is happening in the fast-moving world of innovation and new technologies. Subscribe if you haven’t already, 24 issues for only 48£ (am doing the sale because I really believe if you are interested in the future you should be reading Wired UK, it’s even better than the US version).
How not to be a product on Facebook
If you have shares in Facebook, you probably believe that this platform will sooner or later command a dominant share of the surging online-advertising market, estimated by MagnaGlobal to be worth $103 billion (£65 billion) by 2015. It’s a reasonable assumption, really. Advertising on the social web is an enticing prospect. A place where people tell you who they are, what they like, what they listen to, what they watch: in short, everything about everything. In 1960, if you had told Madison Avenue professionals that their spiritual heirs would have access to endless stores of detailed personal information on billions of people, they would have licked their chops. Or perhaps they would simply have wondered if the end of democracy was imminent.
Indeed, social networks such as Facebook are treading a fine line, balancing users’ privacy on one hand and the need to mine data on the other. To deliver ads that are relevant, advertisers need to know as much as possible about their audience. But they also need to show that they are using information in a reasonable and responsible way in order not to scare people off. An ad triggered by a recent iTunes download is fair game. Suggesting a diet because I sent an email with the words “chocolate” and “fat” is harder to accept.
So far, social networks have operated in take-it-or-leave-it mode. You either accept their terms of service wholesale, or you walk away. There is nothing in between. Enter Privly, “an open-source community project for taking back control of personal information”.