Much has been made about Facebook’s Beacon program over the last week, I don’t have much to add. I will say that dustup reflects once again that this is a stark reminder that social networks only have as much authority to monetize as the users grant to them. In other words, the users are the true owners of the network and without their continued support the network itself loses value very quickly.
I do want to address a couple of points, the first being GROW UP, SOMEONE HAS TO PAY FOR FREE INTERNET SERVICES! Seriously, you know that old adage about there being no free lunch? Well it still applies. The fact that Facebook, or anyone like them, wants to monetize the activity in the network by selling demographic and behavioral data should not surprise anyone.
More to the point of advertising trends in general, as consumers we pay a lot for cost of sales as advertising and marketing functions still largely adhere to broadcast methodologies. If advertisers are able to look at my profile and behavioral data and better target me with advertising and promotion for things I might actually want, well maybe I’d be happier because my attention would be on things that are potentially relevant to me.
For example, if I’m in the market for a new car I would like to see advertising and promotions about new cars but when I buy a new car I’d rather not see that anymore. However, because I bought a new car I still want to see related advertising, but more contextualized to the fact that I now have a new car so therefore I’m in the market for different products, like cheap car insurance.
Anyone who doesn’t think this isn’t already happening in the non-online world (the meatspace) is kidding themselves. For those of you that have children, isn’t it both startling and really useful that coupons and samples for diapers, lotions, wipes, and other baby essentials start showing up immediately upon returning home from the hospital? The only thing that would make this even better is if Pampers knew that I bought Huggies and offered me a double value coupon for the next time around.
But this recent Facebook hubbub had little to do with the above and more to do with the users feeling that they were getting something slipped by them. Facebook should, at this point, just come out and admit that they really fucked up the PR handling around Beacon, they could not have possibly done anything worse along the way.
Aside from the PR aspects of the story, there is something else that Beacon does that I do find very disturbing:
If users have ever checked the option for Facebook to “remember me” — which saves users from having to log on to the site upon every return to it — Facebook can tie their activities on third-party Beacon sites directly to them, even if they’re logged off and have opted out of the broadcast. If they have never chosen this option, the information still flows back to Facebook, although without it being tied to their Facebook ID, according to Berteau.
Nobody reads terms and conditions statements, indeed they are often written in such a way (all caps) so as to discourage anyone from really reading them. At no point do the majority of these services inform users as to what is going on at various stages and offering them an opt-out mechanism, it’s like they are stuck in the mentality that they have to trick users in order for them to go along with the scheme.
Perhaps there is a better way, be upfront with users about what you are doing with their data and why users benefit, or simply say “we need your demographic and behavioral data to fund the service so that it stays free”.