Tag Archives: Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook is Actually Not Free

This is our monthly installment of ‘Delayed Grasp of the Obvious’.

Just before Facebook Week last week I volunteered a point of view that was posted in Kevin Coupe’s excellent retail blog MorningNewsBeat.com, questioning that as FB doesn’t charge, how can it compensate users for breach of their private data?  (the letter is shown below).

Fair enough question and we saw Zuckerberg, Sandberg & Co. take some baby steps last week after the Congressional rotisserie.

But I made a huge error when I said “Facebook is free already”.  Palm to forehead.

Facebook is not free.   Nothing is free.

As has been famously stated and variously attributed, ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.  Meaning, there’s always a hidden or implied cost or quid pro quo with anything positioned as ‘free’.

In Facebook, you don’t pay cash, you pay with something much more dear:  YOU.

In fact, Facebook, and all other ‘free’ sites, are not benevolent social facilitators, they are essentially match.com-like dating sites that try to hook up advertisers with hot to trot consumers.  Except you don’t volunteer things like ‘long walks on the beach’.   All you do is go about your daily life, posting and clicking, and your profile is created in the background, with data you didn’t even know was being collected.

Basic stuff, but really brought home by the latest Facebook issues, which look to become a watershed moment in privacy practices.

As a marketer doing anything online, understand that your future efforts to connect with consumers is going to have to deal with increasing amounts of skepticism, where consumers make a more informed decision about whether hitting that last click-bait article, or signing up for something that looks free.
– and increasing privacy laws will likely mean greater disclosure and more overt opt-in requirements.

As a consumer, realize that online you are first a commodity, not some company’s friend, and you need to take exceptional care of YOU.

The days of ‘free’ services are waning.  And this is not just another conspiracy theory.

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April 6, 2018

I liked this email about the Facebook situation from MNB reader David Tuchler:

So here’s the thing: any normal business that screwed up or compromised its customers’ privacy or violated any other customer rights would be compelled to offer some sort of make-good (morally if not legally). If the laundry scorches your shirt, they cover the cost of the shirt or give you a credit. Even Equifax offered a identity protection service, even if it was sort of a ‘honestly, you can trust me again’ thing. The point is that the injured party is somehow compensated.

Facebook is different – it does not collect revenue from its consumer users. So even with millions of its users’ confidential data breached and a market cap of $464 Billion (that’s over $200 per user or $6000 per affected user), does Facebook have a responsibility to somehow make things right? And how would that even happen? In-kind gestures (we’ll extend your subscription another 3 months) doesn’t necessarily work here – – not only because FB is free already, but I don’t want any more FB – – I actually want less.

This is one of those areas where the law hasn’t kept up with the fast-moving nature of online activity (sort of analogous to the online sales avoid sales tax loophole). To the extent these social media companies have no avenue to make things right, I would have to agree with the European direction of requiring more strict and obvious safeguards and opt-in mechanisms so that risks are made clear and users can make a more rational judgment on whether to join or not.

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‘Facebook Real’ can help you handle fake news – – from your friends

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As you may have heard, social networking giant Facebook today quietly announced the test marketing of an updated version, called Facebook Real, with the stated objective of improving the Facebook user experience.

Facebook ratings

Facebook has always taken some flak about its negative effects, so this seems a worthwhile goal.  But cynics as we are, The Armchair MBA feels Facebook Real is just a misdirection play to divert attention from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal (CEO Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the US Congress in the near future).

In any case, this is an example of how a seemingly innocuous reason-for-being (exploit the constant human needs of attention and affirmation to create an online community and attract eyeballs) can instead have the opposite effect (while also creating an international political scandal).
In today’s online world, nothing is 100% predictable.   Or even 50%.
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Since its founding in 2004, Facebook in 2017 has reached over 2 billion active users and a market value of over half a trillion dollars (although the recent scandal chopped about $50 billion – !! – off its market cap).

Along the way, however, the effect of never-ending positive posts from friends combined with lack of personal interaction has drawn increasing criticism for its negative psychological effects – – leading to a press release in December 2017 from Facebook’s own researchers admitting that sometimes people “felt worse” after spending time online.

FB Research

Facebook has itself experimented with a ‘dislike button’ (which they call a ‘downvote button’) to give users some measure of control.  But this hasn’t gone anywhere.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebook-is-testing-a-dislike-button-called-downvote-with-select-users

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How will Facebook Real be different?
Facebook Real is a different way to help some users better cope with a continuous stream of positive posts, while still staying connected.

It is well known that the carefully curated posts of acquaintances’ positive experiences – – an accomplishment, a great vacation, a financial windfall, a celebrity sighting, etc. — are in reality your friends’ personal Highlight Reels.  No one has a life as fabulous as any single person on Facebook, let alone everyone combined.
Indeed, as the Facebook researchers noted, “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison” – – in other words, feelings of relative inferiority.

 

Facebook Real takes a different approach that is elegant in its simplicity. It essentially attempts to make feeds more representative of real life, including the ups as well as the downs – – and relies on Facebook’s seemingly endless personal data trove, combined with some remarkable algorithmic programming.

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In the test, every 2 or 3 actual positive posts from a person will be supplemented by one ‘fake’ post that is designed to reflect the realities of life. These ‘reality’ posts will be woven into the feed naturally, based on what Facebook knows about you.

For example, if Person A posts ‘my daughter is on the honor roll’ followed by ‘my husband just achieved his karate green belt’, or ‘got first row tickets to the Final Four’, it will be followed by a random post that Facebook has created but which is based on the person’s actual life.
If Facebook’s data shows that this person has, say, experienced a drop in credit score, a mortgage default, a threatening blackmail note from a spurned co-worker, a pet that failed obedience training, or a child that was recently bailed out of prison, this will be skillfully used to create a real-looking post sent from that person.  The ‘sender’ will not be aware of this ‘faux post’.

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The result will theoretically provide a break from the incessant stream of positives and show that everyone actually deals with real life, leading to a more interested, engaged and stable universe of Facebook users.

The downside is of course that Facebook Real relies on leveraging ever-increasing and ever-intrusive data on its users, which is not consistent with current attitudinal trends.

Look for more information on Facebook Real in coming weeks, and please contact The Armchair MBA if you suspect you may be in the test group. We’ll (anonymously, of course), provide an update in a future post.