Facebook and Your Data: 10 Things Advertisers & Consumers Should Know

Anybody who reads the news is aware that Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has been recently called to testify in front of Congress in order to address recent data breaches at the company.

This has caused Facebook users to question their own Facebook usage habits and to think about just what is at stake. Is it too risky to use Facebook anymore?

As a businessperson, you may already be leveraging Facebook’s ad network to promote your products and services. Or, you may have considered doing so. Will this be a viable option, moving forward?

As a consumer and potential Facebook user, you may be concerned about your own privacy.

Here are 10 things that you should know right now about this important issue:

1. Data on your purchasing habits is already in the hands of millions of advertisers – and has been for decades. Social media only accelerates the process and allows some new bits of information to be known about consumers.

2. Advertisers already can find out more about consumers than you might think (or might like to think) – social media or no social media.

3. Facebook’s users have to “opt out” of certain data-sharing practices – but most people don’t opt out. This policy may change to opt-in in coming months. Time will tell.

4. For years, Facebook has had a built-in search feature that allows individuals to look up the names associated with phone numbers or addresses of Facebook users. This feature has recently been disabled amidst some uproar by consumer advocacy groups.

5. Facebook shares data about your usage with many of the apps you have signed up for, and has been doing so for years. This is all in the fine print (and, some people think that print is too fine).

6. Some Facebook corporate partners, such as Cambridge Analytica, are suspected of using Facebook surveys and other tools to build political attitude profiles about individual users – a data usage action which goes against Facebook’s policies.

7. In recent weeks, Facebook has been scrambling to implement clearer, stricter and more understandable safety features to safeguard users from undue data privacy violations.

8. Regardless of all of the safeguards, the reality is that if you participate in social media, it’s inevitable that some of your usage information is know-able by others. This is a reality that many don’t want to accept.

9. The majority of information collected by Facebook about your Facebook usage habits is used by the company’s algorithms to serve you more relevant content and yes, ads. It’s likely most of it is never actually reviewed by a human.

10. Targeted advertising techniques benefit companies and consumers alike by serving up more relevant ads. But this is only beneficial and ethical when information is used in a non-invasive way that doesn’t expose users’ private information to third parties directly.

The bottom line is this:

a. Facebook, Google and others are still learning about all of this, like the rest of us. They have every incentive to gain/regain users’ trust by putting better policies in place.

b. Consumers will never have ultra-private data lives in all ways – and that may be okay. In fact, it may be good for them in some respects.

c. Advertisers need to act responsibly by working with stated data usage guidelines and policies – and will benefit in the process through better-ROI marketing while safeguarding their customers’ privacy and trust.

There is a middle path and we as a society will certainly find it. It will take time, patience and diligence.