Data War Intensifies with Google’s Memory Hole and Facebook’s Sentiment Research

Big data war

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.

Is Google (not Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn) poised to win the Graph war?

Recently we have had big announcements from Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn around improving or extending their search technologies! Facebook announced a social graph to leverage social relationship data, and then Twitter introduced human-aided search results to cut the noise and deliver more precise and interest-driven data via search results; The LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, claims that LinkedIn will be the home of a world economic graph to consolidate the human resources and skills market, and Google has its eyes on a knowledge graph with more holistic data to enrich consumer searches with complete information. So what exactly is this graph war; why are these companies insisting so much on graphs to leverage their platforms; and who will come out as the eventual winner?

We have looked at all these graphs and analysed the pros and cons to reach a verdict on who might be going in the right direction.

Facebook joined the search bandwagon by introducing the Graph Search beta version. No doubt the Graph Search premise is founded on very lucrative logic, which promises to enable the Facebook user to search things within their extended social circle, and as studies suggests that 73% of the time we do, or buy, things based on friends’ references or recommendations, we might end up using Facebook search more often than even accessing the newsfeed or timeline or Google!
In addition, Facebook will, at some point, release this whole functionality to developers via APIs to integrate to their apps and/or websites, which means, like Facebook Connect, the site can now integrate Graph Search to enrich their customers’ journeys with recommendations, reviews and so on i.e. higher conversion!

Pros:
• People can find relevant information based on their interests, activity and location within their social circle e.g. “best pizza restaurants in west London area” and “SkyFall”.
• Businesses can now weave in their ads to search results, similar to Google AdWords i.e. higher conversion.
• Facebook Connect with Graph Search enables websites and apps to integrate customers’ social circle’s sentiments for corresponding products, to help them in decision making.
• Graph Search analytics will enable businesses to have better customer insight, as they would now know exactly what people are looking for through search keywords, locations etc.

Cons:
• Privacy and Data Protection is still a huge concern for Facebook and Graph Search
• Processing 2.5bn likes, 1 bn comments and 3bn pictures upload every day to produce an accurate search graph is not easy.
• Facebook Mobile integration is running behind.
• The data war between Twitter and Facebook is leading to a decoupling, so social data is incomplete.
• Facebook uses Bing as default search engine, which may be a liability rather than an asset.
• Facebook is often used to show off i.e. we don’t share everything we buy on Facebook!

Twitter Interest Graph and Human-Aided Search Results
Initially Twitter started to sell their advertising products based on an interest graph, but it has also recently enhanced its search algorithm by introducing human element (using Amazon Mechanical Turk) to ensure people get the best results when they search live events based on hashtags, keywords, pictures and/or with certain linguistic emotions. Personally, I am the biggest fan of the Twitter platform for finding information, and if they manage to fix their search it could really be a game changer, as the amount of information from various sources they have is unmatchable!

Pros:
• Business can tap into the latest trends to promote their products and services.
• Businesses can use Twitter sentiments analytics to build their products and services. Twitter sentiments are used by the stock market and TV industry.
• Most of Twitter data is consumed on mobile clients, meaning businesses can tap both mobile growth and crowdsourcing!

https://twitter.com/alexhisaka/status/291312770064986112

Cons:
• Despite introducing human intervention, the processing of 1bn 140 chars tweets with free text, emotions, images and videos every two days for accurate search results is still a humongous tasks for Twitter.
• Twitter are reluctant to share profit with the community, which means businesses who are banking on customers to share their services on Twitter, in order to get maximum traction, won’t see much sharing as there is no benefit to the consumer.
• Interest and commerce don’t go hand in hand.

LinkedIn’s vision to produce an economic graph in the next 10 years

LinkedIn’s vision to produce a world economic graph sounds like one of the most realistic and promising approaches. Over the years professionals have already built up their profiles, using the LinkedIn platform for both professional and personal development, and Now LinkedIn is aiming to weave profession, location, and skill sets together to create an economic graph of the business world, which means they can map out human resources and skills supply and demand stats by location, industry, job description etc.

Pros:
• Business development executives are using, and will continue to use, the LinkedIn network for lead generation.
• The recruitment industry is using, and will continue to use, LinkedIn to find best candidates, and vice versa.

Cons:
• Like other crowdsourcing tools, it has data quality issues.
• LinkedIn doesn’t link with Facebook and Twitter data, which would allow a more complete economic graph.
• How will they cover tacit knowledge and skills to complete the economic graph?

Google Knowledge graph (with top search algorithm, G+ , YouTube, Google Place, Android)
Despite all the noise around Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn graphs, Google has also recently enhanced their search result displays with the introduction of a knowledge graph concept, to give a holistic view to site visitors. For their knowledge graph, Google uses its top quality search algorithm to pull data from various sources including Youtube, Google Images, Wikipedia, Google News, Google Maps and various blog platforms to ensure users have all the relevant information in one place. However, Google still faces severe criticism for its inability to show more recent (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) data in its knowledge graph. To combat this issue, Google is rigorously trying to collect current trending data on G+, which will eventually feed into the knowledge graph. And all kudos to Google, in no time G+ has already become the second most sought-after social networking site!

Pros:
• The knowledge graph with the best search algorithm, YouTube, Google Images, Google Maps, Google News, and G+ data, gives far wider reach to businesses for both promoting their products and understanding their customers.
• Surely behind the scenes Google is feeding Android and DoubleClick experiences into knowledge graph to let businesses and consumers leverage graph features on the mobile platform?

Cons:
• The knowledge graph is missing Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Instagram data , which have become part of consumers’ online profiles.
• Businesses perceive G+ to be more or less an SEO tool.

Conclusion

Overall, we know Facebook’s social graph and Twitter’s interest search graph have huge potential to benefit both consumers and businesses, but data privacy, quality of search results, reluctance to link to each other’s data and, let’s get real, how many times we really like to talk about our shopping, apart from when we are knowingly or unknowingly showing off, means all these social networks, despite their claims to breaking the code, have a long way to go before becoming forces to be reckoned with when it comes to understanding consumers.

However, LinkedIn has so far managed to make its niche and is heading in the right direction to become a B2B lead generation and job search engine, by focusing only on professionals and their working relationships!

And despite many critiques and predictions of Google’s demise, it continues to grow year by year at very healthy rates, which demonstrates that when it comes to buying or taking any decision, people still go at Google to find information and Google’s strong grip on the mobile platform via Android and DoubleClick is helping to shape Google’s knowledge graph, to make sure search results now comprise all-round information via Google Maps, Google News, Google Images, Google+ and YouTube, so that consumers can find all they need to make a decision.

All in all, I don’t see any feasible threat to Google in the near future and in fact if they can pull together worldwide content including ecommerce site content, location data, YouTube, Google News, Google Images, Google Maps and Google+ content and process and render this via the knowledge graph in the way they have done for web search, they have a clear winner and are likely to remain on top of the game for a long-long time to come, even in the graph war!