Facebook Battens Down Against Data Democracy!
Henry Lawson

The recent announcement from Facebook proposing changes to its ‘Data Use Policy’ and ‘Statement of Rights and Responsibilities’ has caused a huge uproar from Facebook users, privacy groups and data protection experts alike.  On one hand, Facebook declares to be giving its users the right to vote on any changes. With the other, it’s acting like the North African dictators it helped to overthrow during the Arab Spring, by pushing through changes to its privacy policy that fly in the face of data democracy.

At 12pm PST on December 10th, Facebook stopped being a democracy. It was no surprise to anyone that the 300 million users required to quash the changes did not come forward. In fact only 668,872 users voted, representing a turnout of just 0.067%. Despite the fact that of those users who did vote, 88% were against the changes, Facebook can now push through the new policy (under the mat), that will give them the ability to share your data with companies they are ‘affiliated’ with, whilst giving its users less control of their data.  But is there really any reason to get so worked up about it, do people really care, and what are the effects of giving consumers greater control of their personal information?

We conducted our own study through Opinium, sampling a broad set of UK adult demographic groups to get a real insight into the realities of consumer awareness about their voting rights with respect to Facebook. The results were alarming—a staggering 72% of those polled weren’t aware of the vote and, having been informed by our questionnaire, 67% were concerned about having this right to vote removed. We also found that 56% of respondents expressed concern about Facebook sharing their data with external companies without their consent and, in keeping with the trend we’ve seen across nearly all our studies, a colossal 74% were in favor of the user having total control over how their personal information is shared and used in general.

The key issue isn’t so much about personal data as commodity, but user control over that information. Previous research undertaken by Ctrl-Shift, an independent research agency, found that while privacy is a key concern, both businesses and consumers benefited most when consumers actually volunteer personal information willingly. Interestingly, Ctrl-Shift found that consumers are not even averse to sharing information about themselves to businesses, and in fact they were happy to do so as long as they knew how it would benefit them.  Transparency and control are paramount.

Currently Facebook needs to deliver over 2,000 adverts to deliver a single click, so something clearly isn’t working. We have seen that through being completely transparent with consumers and asking them how and where their profile/personal information is shared and used, you can achieve response rates 70 times greater than what Facebook achieves today.  Being transparent and giving consumers more control may seem like an incredibly simple idea, and yet many companies never even seem to contemplate it, Facebook included.

Henry Lawson is CEO of nFluence, [now autoGraph Inc] a marketing technology company providing B2B2C solutions that enable customers to create accurate 700 dimension interest graphs within under 30 seconds, without using any PII and tracking any of their data. nFluence’s Brand Sorting Technology was shortlisted in this year’s MEFFY’s for the new Consumer Trust Award, which recognizes companies that pave the way for managing privacy and security in line with regulation and the industry-wide development of best practices.