More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining

Here are two unrelated pieces on Facebook that I ran across nearly simultaneously:

The first is from the NY Times, about how high-school students and college applicants are trying to make it harder for colleges to find them on Facebook (using aliases), for fear of the adverse consequences of institutions knowing too much about them:

For high school students concerned with college acceptance, Facebook presents a challenge. It encourages making public every thought and every photo, an opportunity for posturing and bravado nearly irresistible to teenagers. But this impulse for display clashes with the need to appear circumspect and presentable to college admissions agents, who some high school guidance counselors have warned are likely vetting applicants by trolling the Web.

Whether admissions officers really do plumb Facebook is up for debate, said Dr. Frank C. Leana, a prominent independent college counselor in New York City whose services cost $1,000 (for a one-time consultation) to $9,000 (for ongoing counsel throughout the college process). His students believe they are being watched, he said, but “it’s really hard to know how accurate their suspicions are.”

One of the big pitches for the Open Graph is “making the Web less anonymous,” more transparent. But Facebook being the de facto identity management platform across the Internet is not so desirable to everyone, as the above article suggests. And young people do care about privacy it would appear — or at least that third parties not be able to access their information.

Real and open identity is good as an abstract matter until the “big brother effect” kicks in and others are passing judgment and denying jobs or college admissions, potentially because of one-too-many drunken party images on Facebook. While there’s no documentation of the latter, the fear is clearly present.

The second article, an interview of sales VP Mike Murphy by eMarketer, reveals some of Facebook’s ambitions surrounding data mining and ad targeting vis-a-vis the “Like” button. Here’s eMarketer’s summary conclusion of Murphy’s comments:

Whenever a person clicks to “like” something they see on the Web, that information will go into their Facebook profile and marketers will be able to use the information to target advertising within Facebook.

This is a key point: all off-site “Like” activity will factor into targeting on Facebook. In other words, Facebook is mining actions across the Internet for targeting on its site. Brilliant and/or creepy? A little of both I think.

What many (most) people don’t realize also is that “Liking” something across the Internet will enable marketers or publishers to push content and “publish into [users’] news feeds.” This requires prior approval but it may not be clear that people are signing up for an ongoing stream of information or marketing messages.

15 Responses to “More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining”

  1. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    “What many (most) people don’t realize also is that “Liking” something across the Internet will enable marketers or publishers to push content and “publish into [users’] news feeds.” This requires prior approval but it may not be clear that people are signing up for an ongoing stream of information or marketing messages.”

    This is a key point. This alone will turn a lot of people off Liking stuff. It quickly becomes a disincentive to Like something when your FB feed starts clogging up with commercial vs personal updates.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    We’ll see . . .

  3. Terry Howard Says:

    I still think it’s odd that I am somehow finding myself filling the role of defending Facebook for some reason, I do feel the need to point out that calling the data collected from what people “like” using the new Facebook “Like” button “off-site activity” is a mischaracterization. This button only works if you have a Facebook account and it is very clear that this is a Facebook tool that ties back in to you posting stuff to your wall. The way you explain it it sounds like they are planting some spyware and following your activity online. The user is physically pushing a button to socially bookmark back to their account things that they like. This is no different than using a StumbleUpon button that then turns around and delivers related sites to your past tastes. And, if you are out there Facebook “liking” furry porn, Facebook delivering you relevant ads to your fetish tastes, is the least of your worries as Grandma is going to want to know what this stuff you are “liking” means.

    And besides all that, Facebook is not a requirement for you to participate in it. They offer a service for free, for you to connect, and they allow advertisers to match ads for relevant offers based on VOLUNTEERED information. The fact that people can’t be bothered to read privacy policies before accepting them or take 5 seconds to go in and uncheck a box on a site they spend hours a day at, it’s entirely ridiculous. They even floated the idea out there of an ad free subscription model and people starting freaking out and creating protest groups on Facebook. Apparently Facebook is not allowed to turn a profit and pay their employees, they are a public works service now or something.

    It’s all a complete and utter overreaction. I mean, I find it entirely telling that the same people I see posting in all caps “post this as your status if you want Facebook to stop digging through your garbage to stealing your identity” or some similar poppycock are the ones who want me to take a poll of whether or not I think Obama should be allowed to eat the livers of every white child in America.

  4. Terry Howard Says:

    I will endeavor to proofread in the future, my grammar and spelling was atrocious! Serves me right for trying to do paperwork and type at the same time.

  5. Tim Cohn Says:

    Without additional externally generated data points, Facebook’s ability to extrapolate audience psychographics and woo new advertisers will be nil.

  6. Greg Sterling Says:

    I don’t totally object to what Facebook has done. It’s all not totally “out there” or clear to people what’s going on. People are used to interacting with Facebook and now there are some new tools/features.

    Facebook is simply extending its data mining to third party sites. But that’s not clear to people. Yes, people have to take “affirmative action” but they’re not clear what that means.

    I’m not a rabid privacy advocate but there are clearly some manipulative elements here. And it shouldn’t be an “all or nothing” choice: use it or not. Of course you can change privacy settings, but I also believe those are not fully explained or understood.

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    I disagree it’s all an over-reaction. To use “consent” as justification for data collection you have to be clear on what users are consenting to . . .

    Without consent comes regulation.

  8. Nicholas Says:

    The ‘instant personalization’ is the most worrisome part. I went to yelp today and it showed me the yelp accounts of my facebook friends. Users used to be anonymous on yelp under a name like iratethings2009 where they could feel comfortable rating businesses that they wouldn’t want their friends/family/boss to know about. Now they go to yelp and it pulls their info and all facebook friends of that person can now see their yelp id and the businesses that they rated.

    Many people want to have an anonymous persona online in addition to their public one.

  9. More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining « Screenwerk | Aceh Blog Resource Says:

    […] See the article here: More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining « Screenwerk […]

  10. Simon Baptist Says:

    I would say that the NYT article harkens to the George Costanza Rule of Social Media – which boils down to we don’t want our worlds to collide.

    As in, I use Facebook mostly for personal (though I am playing around with in a research capacity with Pages, Ads, etc) – mostly my professional life doesn’t leak through.

    I use LinkedIn (and probably Twitter) mostly for professional purposes.

    From what I have seen, there is a bit of a generational gap, even with my colleagues <30.

    As for @nicholas' point – It's my understanding that people don't have to connect their accounts and so should still be able to stay anonymous – though one part of me thinks that Facebook has solved a problem with online community that I've been thinking about since '96 – which is how do you prevent the trolls from trashing the conversation

  11. Nicholas Says:

    @simon – If you visit one of the 3 sites (yelp, pandora, while you have a facebook cookie on your machine, then it automatically links your accounts so your friends see your info on that site. You don’t opt in and can’t ask for your accounts to not be connected. Even if you go to Facebook and opt out of the ‘instant personalization,’ your info is still shared on those sites; you simply lose the benefit of seeing your friends’ info. You have to block the actual application, but many don’t have the application installed on their facebook, nor do they realize they need to do this or how to do it. I haven’t confirmed that even all of that completely removes the link, but it should.

    And when they expand beyond the 3 sites, if you happen to go to a new site before knowing it was added and blocking it, then you’ll automatically have ‘your two worlds collide’ without prior consent.

    I’m not against the benefits that this provides; I just feel that it should be much much easier and clearer to all users how this affects them and how to prevent it before, not after, the fact, if they so desire.

  12. Greg Sterling Says:


    That’s the key point: clarity and consent.

  13. We love you Facebook but privacy and security are important « Fran's Computer Services' Blog Says:

    […] More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining (by Greg Sterling at ScreenWerk) […]

  14. mary Says:

    I used my husbands blackberry to check my facebook once. on that one use, it imported all my friends bdays. so now his fone goes off all the time telling him its someones bday today. lol. he has no idea why it imported all that facebook junk or how to get it off. neither do I!

  15. Free Link Cloaker Says:

    Great conversion going on here. I have always had an interest in data mining, and feel nothing is wrong with it. Information is a very powerful, and the more of it you can collect, and properly organize, the larger you will become.

    People want to fuss over facebook, while they are begging to get their information into google, the information giant.

    Im wondering how much longer we have to wait for the facebook web search engine.

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