Facebook and Twitter have become big names in marketing for business as more firms jump on the bandwagon of using them as a means of advertising. Every day new ad messages by the thousands, both in video and text, get posted on these social networking websites. The constant deluge of content that business supplies to social networks is negligible in comparison to what social users post, as databases of the three social giants continue to grow exponentially. Facebook reached 10 billion images in 2008.
It is inherently possible that social networks may develop a need for search engines to sort their own content. With content expanding daily, advertisement would seem guaranteed to get lost in the clutter. In the past, Facebook tried various methods to solve this dilemma, yet fell short not because those methods were flawed but rather because of their tendency to consider effectiveness before ethics.
Facebook Targeted Ads
One way Facebook has sought to improve targeted advertisement has caused uproar from the public and privacy groups. They wanted to deploy methods similar to Amazon’s that specifically target ads to Facebook users, tailoring content to user tastes and preferences. This was acceptable for Amazon, where purchase history can be used unobtrusively without disclosing private information about the users. In contrast, Facebook had to use the information contained in user profiles, information it claimed was private, to match the users to targeted ads. Outrage caused by this measure was understandable as many saw this as breaking the privacy guarantee and nullifying the effectiveness of Facebook’s privacy measures.
Facebook Acquisition of Instagram
The distrust of Facebook has reached its critical mass in 2012, when they purchased the photo sharing service Instagram. Facebook stated users of the service would have avatar photos posted in much the same way as the current “Like” badges Facebook has already been using. Instagram users interpreted this as a move to de-privatize their photos and allow them to be used or sold in advertisements. This created an avalanche of protest and a mass exodus from Instagram, which nearly ruined the real plans Facebook had made for the website. Other services which were routinely used to backup pictures from Instagram also reported network failures, and backup attempts reached over 1.5 million users per hour. Facebook bred this distrust with the policy of “develop first and consider the legal issues later.”
Facebook Graph Search
Facebook is already testing a search engine that will allow searching for content based on the friends’ “likes”. This is done as an attempt to keep pace with the Google Plus social network, which at half-a-billion users and integrated search capability is quickly becoming a competitor! This engine, called the Graph Search, is named after a shortened abbreviation of their Social Graph idea. It could plausibly be expanded to allow users to search Public business and other interest pages. If Facebook fails to “silo” private information of its users away from access by third party vendors or non-friend users, the Graph Search can be as much a privacy problem as all the previous efforts along the same vein.
Facebook Legal Hurdles
Facebook has three main privacy laws to deal with: the Privacy Act of 1974, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), and the Child Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). The Privacy Act regulates how businesses handle and collect confidential information and is considered defunct since it was written long before the advance of Internet. The ECPA deals with steps governments must take to intrude upon the Privacy of Electronic Communications, but updates made to it through the Patriot Act have been repeatedly tested in court, and some stricken down, by both ISPs and individual websites. COPPA refines the laws on collection of information from children under 13, forcing websites to identify circumstances where permission of parents must be obtained for a child to divulge information.
Numerous updates have been attempted to the Privacy Act and the ECPA for collection and dissemination of information for the normal Internet end user. So far, all have been stalled in US Congress. Whether this remains deadlocked depends on how many cases wind up in the Supreme Court in which the court has to redefine provisions of outdated code. Privacy concerns spawned by Facebook may spur extreme restrictions if the social giant (and others like them) continue to pursue financial gain in lieu of users personal privacy. Market segmenting can still be effective even while stripping away confidential user information. Perhaps it’s best for Facebook not to break a system that works as is.
In business terms, it’s understandable why Facebook – the largest social network – is continuously pushing the envelope. They seek to maintain competitive advantage over other sites in their marketplace, including Google who is showing no signs of letting go. Competitive advantage can, however, be seriously undermined by the loss of public confidence in social giant’s services. Facebook’s track record of “develop first, apologize later” does little to quell the perceived privacy risks users take with every new technology development the company undertakes. As Facebook tests social network technology limits as a business tool, they must be careful to avoid testing the legal limits as well, or they will be walking through a fiscal, political and legal minefield.
Get Free Blogging updates in your Email