Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Social Networks and Privacy

At the end of the first day at SugarCon, I attended a very interesting panel led by Martin Schneider composed by very reputable expert in the social CRM field including Esteban Kolski and Jeremiah Owyang. The first question Martin asked was “who owns the data?” and there was different views at play here: Esteban was of the mind that the data belongs to the company who created a campaign whereas Jeremiah made the point that it was more of a contractual issue and that the data could belong also to the social network.

As I was thinking and listening, it became clear that the panel was talking about an interaction between a client/prospect and a merchant on a social network. For the panel the two contenders to own this data were either the merchant or the social network but nobody brought the point of view of the client. Jeremiah discarded the issue as being part of the term of service between the Social Network and the users of this social network. Alright, this makes sense but do I really have an understanding of what I am being asked when I am making this decision at the time of joining a site?

In order to put my mind around this subject, I imagined myself being in a mall with a friend shopping. The owner of the mall would be tracking what I am doing and the content of my discussion with my friend and sell this information to the merchant with a certain level of abstraction (I am not Philippe, xxx years old but I would be male, x, ….) An ad would then appear to me on a screen as I am passing by with deals targeted to me.

Now, the question is given the choice, would I go to this mall? Or to another mall that doesn’t monitor all my behaviors? I guess I would want to go the other mall and when I think about the discount from the stores in order to accept to be followed is in the 50% or more. Why is that? Well, the reason is simple, despite the fact that ads shown on screens would not be intrusive, I don’t want all my actions to be monitored while I am shopping and if I had the choice, I would probably go shopping somewhere else.

In the same vein, City, State and Federal could set up an infrastructure to monitor everything we do on the street or on public location and then sell our data to merchants. The results of the proceeds would be an income for those institutions and offset some of our taxes. Again, would I vote for a measure such as this one on a ballot, probably not!! I guess I would rather pay tax than have my privacy invaded.

So why am I accepting it on the Internet? And why am not asking some rewards? I think there are mainly three reasons:

1) In a real life, I would see the microphone and camera following me everywhere; this would be in my face all the time reminding me that I am followed. On the internet, I don’t see the thousand of computers making relevance of my clicks so I don’t think about it;

2) The ads on the sites or outside are part of the background so they attract me only if I am interested but are not really visible otherwise so it is not really an annoyance;

3) There is ultimate value in sharing information with friends and knowing how they felt about a restaurant or a group. Knowing it will enable me to have a better experience and will enable me to engage with my friends better and more frequently.

Because there is value, it is less annoying and it doesn’t affect me that much, I guess I should be OK with the business model and should let me be tracked in order to have access to the service. Even though this is a fair argument, I still don’t buy it. First, I don’t know the value of what I am giving away. In real life and faced with monitoring devices, it seems like a lot of value and I am not willing to trade it and, on the Internet, the same goods doesn’t appear to have the same value. So the way to gather the information would have an impact on the value of the information. This is not quite right. Second, I don’t have the option of not participating; All my friends are on social networks and if want to search the Internet, the only available option is using an advertising based search engine. Third, I am dependent on the institution that I have entrusted my data with. The more data and the more network effect, the more difficult it is going to be for me to switch if privacy policy changes.

At the end of the day, what I think would be fair is for companies like Google and Facebook to give us more transparency on their business model and should relinquish some control over the use of our data. I see four major venues that those institutions could leverage:

1) More visibility: Sites should help us understand at a more granular what they track. I would be very interested to see when Google tracks my email or myself which keywords I am assigned to. I would like to know the type of revenue an institution generate from that data; the obvious one is the ads I am seeing anytime I show up but there may be others;

2) More control: Sites could offer control in many ways. The most obvious is to let me remove information that I don’t want to be shared. Then, there could be an independent body from the core business that provides check and balance and is the ultimate decision maker on Privacy Policy;

3) More choice: I know this has been tried before and with not much success but Facebook and Google should offer paying version of their service so that if I don’t want to share my data anymore, I can switch to a different model and still leverage the service I contributed to create;

4) More insurance: if a security/privacy breach occurs with my data, the entity that is spreading my data should at the end bears the risk if one of the network partners fail to abide with the privacy policy embodied with my data.

As Mark Zuckerberg pointed out, we are witnessing the emergence of a new world, which is social by nature. In order to fully benefit from it, new rules needs to be established and the old paradigm such as complete opt-in may be old thinking and not adapted to this new world. Fortunately, if social networks enable one-to-one marketing, they should also help us to address more granularly our privacy needs and “a one size fits all” model like the one taken by Facebook now may also be part of the old thinking. So let's think creatively and come up with solutions that enable us to leverage the opportunity while recognizing that we are human being entitled to some rights including on Privacy.

Access direct contact information for millions of business people in Spoke

Spoke is dedicated helping members initiate relationships with business people to form better alliances and strong businesses. One of the key elements of establishing new relationships is doing so within the confines of trust and ethics. That’s why Spoke has a well-defined privacy policy that guarantees that at no time will Spoke display, sell, or give away any direct contact information without a member’s consent.

Spoke does offer several ways to reach over 60 million businesspeople using features such as:
Corporate contact information (such as a headquarters address and phone number)
Outlook integration

We’ve heard time and again from you, our members, that you want direct contact information for people found in Spoke, but because of our privacy policy we were unable to supplement our rich profile data with direct contact information.

Today we are excited to announce a new feature that bridges the chasm between our privacy policy and our members’ requests. Now you can access direct contact information for anyone in Spoke using the Jigsaw integration.

Jigsaw is a directory of business contacts including direct contact information such as some one’s business email address, direct dial extension, business mailing address, and position within the company and you have direct access to get this information from Spoke.

To download this information, look just below a person’s profile for the words ‘Purchase Contact’. If you see this, then you can now download direct contact information from Spoke.

For more information on how this process works, visit the Jigsaw FAQs.

So what are you waiting for? Go download some direct contact information from Spoke and initiate the connections you need to grow your network!

Philippe Cases
President, CEO