Data is next oil very prevalent thought in an advertising and marketing industry. It seems that recent controversies around ECJs verdict on Google’s ‘right to forget’ feature (memory hole) and Facebook’s sentiment research have also confirmed that the stage is set for a data war.
Some might disagree with my observation and categorize both issues under ethical code to protect the privacy rights of online users, but looking at following points, I think this is a tussle among authorities, data companies and users to control or own data.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Online users with a strong appetite for free services are struggling to control data and however unethical it may sound, users will remain on back foot. And reason is how can we avail ourselves of a free service and not expect Google, Facebook and Twitter to utilize our social interaction data, emotions or gestures to monetize their offerings. The truth is, as soon as we subscribe to a free service, we kind of surrender our fundamental right to control data related to us.
There are ongoing attempts from governing bodies to secure user privacy rights, such as limitation around tracking cookies or strict privacy settings, but there are always stories out there that one way or another users’ data is accessed and used for monetization.
Data ownership and processing have gone beyond legal authorities
For authorities, controlling the flow of information or data is a high priority task and rightly so. The main reasons are ensuring national security, protecting users’ privacy and human rights etc., but the days are gone where government and authorities had big budget, highly advanced surveillance programs to ensure data flow was in their control. Now open source, crowd-sourcing data hosting platforms have made it literally impossible for them to monitor information flow without the support of things like Facebook. For example, Facebook likely to be better than FBI at facial recognition due to its larger photo database. So now authorities are left with no option but to take the legal route and force companies to surrender their data, like the NSA program, or restrict their data, like Google right to reject (Memory hole) or Turkish and Egyptian governments’ stopping Twitter access on their territories etc., but it’s not that easy as here the government might themselves violate data protection laws.
Facebook+ have no option other than manipulating sentiments
Despite unprecedented popularity, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are coming under severe pressure for not driving enough traffic or revenue for businesses, plus users’ appetite for continuous use of free services has forced companies to look beyond display advertising models, doing things such as monetizing users’ interests, sentiments or social graphs.
As a result, in my opinion to appease marketers and show them that they are on top of their game, Facebook recently released results of a sentiment research which they have conducted along with PMAC, to analyze the viral effect of people’s sentiments on their platform, and the results unsurprisingly confirmed that sentiments are contagious, especially when they are negative i.e. if a friend posted a depressing update on Facebook, it might make you feel upset too.
But it all seems to have backfired, as the research has drawn loads of flak from digital rights and privacy experts concerning privacy violation. As a result, Facebook apologized publicly and might be involved in some legal proceedings with concerned parties.
Conclusion: The Data War will intensify from now on
Overall, however you look at it, owning and controlling data is vital but a constant struggle, and in my opinion this stems from users, who have become accustomed to free services and have shown no inclination towards paying for services. Therefore content hosting and providing companies have no option but to use or manipulate users’ data to monetize their services. The authorities can only warn users about data abuse and try to curtail data companies by introducing new laws, but when the buck stops at data, there will always a way for companies to monetize that, and therefore the data war will not slow down. Rather it will intensify from now on.