Face it, with Facebook there is no privacy

A media storm emerged last week over data harvested from Facebook users by a personality quiz app, who in turn, passed on that user data to a data-analytics firm.

According to the media, tens-of-millions of users are impacted by what is being called a “data harvest” versus a “data breach”.  Either way, the personal information we trust to be held private on Facebook is in the hands of an outside company whose goal is to profit from that data.

When I say “profit”, I do not mean that they want to steal identities.  They want to use or sell the data to marketing and/or market research companies to better target people with advertisements and product offerings best suited to them on a personal level … based on the extensive amount of information that users have added to Facebook.

Some would say “no harm, no foul” because the data harvested poses few immediate threats to a person’s privacy.  Others would argue that the data harvested poses huge threats … and I would agree.  Let me explain.

As the faculty Director of Social Media Marketing and professor who teaches Consumer Behavior (why and how people make their purchase decisions), I can see the depth of potential danger in losing our private information to private companies.

To make it simple, and hopefully not too simple, there is a plethora of research behind strategies that powerfully encourage the purchase of various products and services. The more than a company knows about a person and their interests, behaviors, friends, and other correlated data that they have provided in their Facebook account, the greater the company’s ability to persuade them to purchase their product whether they need it or not.

Many unscrupulous marketing companies with flexible ethical standards are seeking to learn all about you.  To find your weaknesses and insecurities.  And to serve up product offers that will speak to your inner self and be too irresistible to pass up.

If you have a closet full of clothes that you bought and never wore … or a drawer full of things that you bought and never used, you know what I mean.

Marketers are crafty and somewhat devious people … and they know more about ourselves than we do.  They know these things because of the data collected through a variety of means, that is bought and sold on each and every one of us.  Harvesting is an easier method of collecting data … a lot of data … than traditional marketing research.

In short, it gives marketing firms more information about what drives us to convince us to buy more stuff … much of which is not good for us, or we don’t need.

Then, there is the argument that we should all delete our Facebook profiles and end our relationship with Facebook.

There are two fundamental flaws here, especially for college students.

First, research has proven that Social Media is addictive.  Who wants to go through the withdrawal symptoms of leaving Facebook?  It is still a valuable communication tool for many.

Second, research also indicates that over 70% of employers use Facebook to pre-screen job candidates before offering them an interview.  If a candidate does not have a Facebook profile, the potential employer is left to ponder why someone does not have one in a culture where it is “expected.”  No Facebook profile.  No invitation to interview!

So, what do we do?

  1. Expect that nothing shared online is “private” and be very selective of the information we post, apps we download, searches we make … yes, Google keeps track of all those search queries you make and, perhaps, shares that data with data analytics firms as well. I certainly suspect they do.  We know they share that data with the Government.
  2. Keep your Facebook profile … yet clean it up so that it reflects you as the person you want everyone to see. Discontinue and delete your posts or responses on all sensitive topics like politics, drugs and religion.  Those are the topics in which a data breach can come back to bite you later in life.
  3. Do not worry. While the probability is high that everything you have ever input or posted on Facebook has already been harvested by others at one time or another, it shouldn’t impact your credit score or “identity.”

About Robert Bergman

Robert Bergman is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Lewis University. He also serves as the Director of Social Media Marketing bachelor's degree program at Lewis University.

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