Facebook, Twitter, and Tailored Content: Clearing Privacy Worries

Does the term “tailored content” scare you?

For many, the term brings up feelings of intrusion by companies who gather personal information to be able to give you specific types of content. Recently, we’ve heard tailored content mentioned repeatedly in news reports, blogs, and commentaries, discussing privacy issues raised by revisions in Facebook and Twitter’s terms and conditions. For both, one of the biggest issues is the promise to provide better content to users as an excuse to track the websites they visit and the apps they have on their mobile devices.

In discussions surrounding issues of data privacy by Facebook and Twitter, most of the headlines were there to fan the fire. “Facebook and Twitter is tracking so and so”, “what users should do to turn this off”, “why you should be worried”—many messages lead to one conclusion: nothing you do is private, reject the change, and go.

Before users simply dismiss the changes and cry foul, it's important that consumers understand why providing tailored content is hitting it big these days.

For one, the amount of content being churned out every day is astounding. There are billions of content being shared on a daily basis. This can be attributed to the fact that many companies regard content marketing as an effective marketing tool. Almost every company, 93%, that sell to businesses say they use content marketing. Many of the most effective B2B marketers, or 78%, reportedly created more content this year than they did a year ago. As a result, Internet users are deluged by the sheer amount of content they see, leading some to think that most of the content they put out won’t even reach the customers they’re targeting. To address this, many marketers have decided to provide customized content instead in an effort to personalize user experience. Roughly 8 in 10 chief marketing officers now say that custom content is the future of marketing.

Privacy and Technology, A Two-Way Street

The argument for tailored content does exist. However, in the minds of many, it's just one way by which companies can legitimize gathering sensitive data. Many expect a tradeoff when it comes to services that cater to a wide scope of audience. Paid reports ask for money before releasing well-researched insights and data. Even free online services ask for registration information first before they can be used. In the case of social media, the expectation of tradeoff falls between enjoying the technology and maintaining privacy.

With news of state-sponsored monitoring and company lapses in keeping personal data safe still fresh in the public mind, online privacy becomes a very touchy issue that easily gets a lot of attention. However, is privacy really a tradeoff when it comes to technology?

As we have said before, data gathering is a two-way street. It does not need to be a tradeoff. Many sales transactions today require a certain level of information exchange to provide a better service to customers. It's not unusual for restaurant staff to take note of their regular customers’ favorite side dish or drink and may even offer complimentary servings on occasion. Dentists keep dental imprints or X-ray copies on record as reference for when clients come in with future oral issues. In the same way, social networks can use the information users provide to give better service. What makes it harder for users to give information to Twitter and Facebook when they’re willing to give the same to restaurants and dentists?

Transparency and the “Creep Factor”

When trying to prove that they care to maintain privacy, the difference between online transactions like Facebook and Twitter services and offline ones like restaurants and dental services, is the face-to-face interaction. The transparency that is exhibited by being physically present to entrust data to someone may be a bit harder to translate online. This is where the statement of the terms and conditions come in.

For end users of social media sites, transparency can be a big factor in determining which service to trust. As such, the announcement of changes in terms and conditions, including privacy or data policies, by vendors should be a priority before actually rolling out changes. Seeing as data-gathering is a two-way street, transparency serves as the windshield and rear view mirrors for both end users and online services to see where each is going and agree to them.

However, the issue doesn’t end there. Companies can disclose their data use policies all they want, but if these policies are open to chances of privacy intrusion, the public is likely to voice concerns. Experts typically attribute this to the “creep factor” that haunts companies collecting data to better tailor content. Given that companies are allowed access to customer data, it is considered creepy when they link behavioral data to individuals using unique identifiers, collect both broad and granular information, lump people to subjective data groups that some view as offensive, gather extremely sensitive data, cause computers to run slow, makes it hard to opt-out, or even collect data without notice or consent.

At the end of the day, consumer trust determines the level of data companies are allowed to collect. Here are a number of approaches that can open paths to a better future for online privacy:

  • Consumers should be wary of the permissions they allow on their desktop and mobile devices.
  • They should be updated on the latest news about data policy changes in online services and constantly weigh if they want to continue with the service.
  • Online services need to better phrase their data policies to specify why they need access to data and how tailored content can also benefit consumers.
  • They should also be transparent as to the changes in their policies and provide scenarios so consumers can easily understand them.

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Опубликовано в Online Privacy, Social Media Security, Privacy