The Price of Privacy

When social media was first introduced, the world was excited to “connect” and “share” without having to pay a membership fee. Most didn’t consider the real price users pay to use these social services. Privacy isn’t something guaranteed anymore. It doesn’t matter if you take the suggested steps to stay protected, like keeping your account on “private”, choosing not to share your location and only accepting the people you know as followers. These social platforms are still taking something very valuable away from you -- your privacy.

You pay to stay “connected” through your personal data and companies like Facebook are capitalizing on it. According to Forbes, social media platforms often generate most of their income through targeted ads. The data that the ads use comes from user data that they collect when you use the platforms. Algorithms analyze your data, preferences, images, texts, habits, connections, friends, “likes”, and comments to determine everything from your preference in music, to your races, to how likely you would be to buy a concert ticket, and at what price.

Facebook Ads are more popular than ever, but also more obvious. Now, the next frontier is cross-platform data analytics and sharing. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve researched a company or product on Google and soon after, see advertisements or promotions for the same company on my Facebook news feed. Ads that obvious don’t make me more inclined to purchase from that company. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like the idea that Facebook is targeting me so purposefully, yet so covertly. I know that these ads are generating because of my search history, for example, and it just makes me feel used. What it doesn’t do is make me want to buy the promoted product. It’s just not organic enough of a decision. In a sense, it seems, prearranged.  

I believe, that in the years ahead, Facebook might change the way its targeted ads work as it becomes more and more obvious to its users. Since January of 2019, Facebook has moved its advertising focus more to Instagram in order to engage with new users and younger generations, according to an article from aithority.com. And that’s probably because the older users find the cross-platform data mining to be too creepy, finally.

From my personal experience using Instagram lately, I would give them credit for the addictive quality of the Instagram stories being suggested on my account -- again, based on my personal data. And their ads are more and more onpoint,  pushing its users to take advantage of their paid promotion features, another dubious way of taking advantage of personal data and personal preferences. Last month, I received a notification on my Instagram that read, "Your post is performing well! We're giving you a $30.00 credit to reach more people. Claim your credit."

Instagram clearly wants users to experience more reach through paid promotions, probably in hopes of those users actually paying for them in the future. However, when I consulted fellow industry professionals about whether or not I should avail Instagram’s $30 ad credit, they convinced me not to, noting how desperate it looks to those who will see my promoted post. It looks “inorganic” and fake and wasn’t how I wanted to gain followers for my personal account. I can understand promoting posts for a business, but for my personal account, it felt like cheating.

Paying to promote content is nothing new.  But, in the era of quality content being king, in a way, paying for promotions and ads is a way of cheating the “content” system, and is not necessarily the best bang for your buck. Other methods of gaining reach organically might be a better option for your company or brand.

In the meantime, there are ways to avoid seeing targeted Facebook ads, by using a browser plugin to limit data tracking, turning off targeted Facebook ads in your settings, opting out of ads and more.

If you are a social influencer or run an e-commerce business, always be sure to follow FTC guidelines, especially when promoting on social media. If you need assistance or consulting for internet legal issues, or with privacy or privacy policies, the attorneys at RM Warner have you covered. Get in touch here or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin to learn more.

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