Dear Facebook, it’s not you. It’s us.


The Big Data MOPS Series with Tamara Dull

Dear Facebook,

Last week, we reached our 7-year anniversary mark. Have we really been together that long?! Because, honestly, it feels like forever. I’m sorry we didn’t celebrate, but I really didn’t feel like it. Ever since you asked me for my home address a few months ago, my feelings have begun to change. You crossed a line, dude.

Granted, it’s not the first time you’ve crossed the line—you’ve done it many times before—but this time, it was different. I know that I don’t talk much about my work with you and my friends, but I’m keenly focused on big data and privacy issues—two topics you know all about and use to exploit / build our relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Facebook Screenshot

I used to think it was about me.

I remember when we first hooked up. It was fun. It was new. You made it easy for me to connect with friends, family members and colleagues from years gone by. You even suggested that I connect with interesting strangers from all around the world. I started getting 25-50 friend invitations a week—many of which I accepted—and within a few years, I had almost 5,000 “friends,” with about 2/3rds of them living outside the United States.

Good grief, Facebook. Who has 5,000 friends?! Really? Not me. Not anyone. I know you cap the total number of “friendships” a person can have at 5,000—not because you think it’s too excessive for any one person, but because you want to have some level of control over the amount of “big data” processing you have to do to keep each person’s Facebook world intact. It’s good to know that you’ve set some limits for yourself.

The bottom line is this: You redefined “friend.” Not just for me, but for all of my friends. You made it seem like it was all about me and connecting my world online, when, in fact, it was always all about you. And collecting data.

You change the rules. A lot.

Let’s face it: You’re not my friend. You’re a big data machine. You collect, process, store, aggregate, and analyze all types of data 24/7—like status updates, comments, photos, videos, likes, notes, pokes, and the list goes on. Collecting data is what you do—and you’re always looking for ways to make money from it. I get that. That’s why you’ve been sharing and selling my data—and my friends’ data—for years.

The fact is that without all this data—my data and the data of my 1.3+ billion “friends” on Facebook—you would shrivel up and die. You need our data to stay alive.

It’s important to keep this in mind as people like me share data with you. I know you told me what you would do with my data when we first connected. You told all of us. And yes, I know that I clicked on the “Agree” button in the Terms of Service pop-up window (does anyone read that stuff?!)—so I get that you’ve covered your legal tracks.

Yet, every time you change your policies on how you are using my data and/or keeping it private, it just feels icky. And you change it up a lot. It’s hard to relax because I never know what or when you’re going to spring something new on me—or any of us. Not to mention the gymnastics we have to go through each time to make sure your “new & improved” settings aren’t exposing us in ways we don’t want. Frankly, I don’t trust you, but I want to.

You know how to keep yourself top of mind.

You remind me of some people I know: Negative attention is better than no attention at all. The Facebook chatter these past several weeks has been no exception:

New York Times. “We are all lab rats,” a New York Times article declared. This was after you told everyone about the news feed experiment you conducted on 0.05% of us. Despite the results of the experiment, the key takeaway was: Folks don’t like being manipulated without knowing they’re being manipulated.

Misplaced outrage. Yet, I tend to agree with industry consultant and analyst, Dr. Barry Devlin, who said the “outrage about Facebook’s psychological experiment is misplaced.” In his post The Ethics of Big Data…Again, Barry concludes:

“Internet services such as social media or search funded by advertising allow and invite manipulation of the data gathered for increased profit. If we agree that such services are socially desirable or now necessary, can we afford to expose them to even the possibility of such manipulation?”

OKCupid. It was nice for Christian Rudder, co-founder and president of OKCupid, to come to your aid and let the cat out of the bag. (Did you pay him?) In his blog post, We Experiment on Human Beings!, he wrote:

“If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.”

Petitions. My guess is that the folks at these website companies are not the ones signing these petitions going around—you know, the ones that would cut your revenue stream off at the knees, like this one: Do not sell off our information to advertisers. You can’t seem to win.

Like. Like. Like. I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop with the article about Mat Honan’s experiment, where he liked everything you put in his timeline for two days—just to see how you would respond. You nearly messed the young man up. Not to mention his timeline.

I really want this to work. Seriously.

Sometimes I miss the good ol’ days. The days before we met. I have fond, but faint, memories of my life before I met you and all your internet buddies. I was more physically active back then and I read more hardback books. And I saw the whites of more eyeballs. But I digress.

We both know that there are a lot of other fish in the internet sea; yet I want this relationship to work because I see value in it. But I need to trust you more, so here’s what I’m asking (for now):

  • If I give you my personal data for free, don’t go behind my back and share/sell it to someone else without my knowledge.
  • Figure out a simple way to help me understand who owns my data, who has rights to it, and for how long. I know a lot of people don’t care, but some of us do.
  • You act so arrogant when I or my friends scoff at your ever-changing privacy rules and features. Drop the arrogance act and make it easy for me to manage my own data.
  • Be transparent about what and how my data is being used, what requests have been made by external entities, and the steps you’re taking to keep my data secure.
  • And last, don’t ask me for my home address. It’s none of your business.

Let me be clear: I’m not breaking up with you. Yet. I’m willing to work on our problems. Are you up for it? I hope so. Because I’m not quite ready to accept that it’s not you, it’s me.

Originally written for and published on Smart Data Collective as part of the Big Data MOPS Series

Editor's note:

I love the way Tamara has elevated the big data discussion for marketers way above and beyond Gartner's 3V's construct for defining big data.

  • In her first big data series on this blog, she laid out a 10-step "archipelago" of big data islands as a more practical way for everyone outside of I.T. to understand big data.
  • This series - the "MOPS Series" - gives marketers a framework for knowing what to actually do with big data (and also what not to do with it). The monetization, ownership, privacy and security of big data all matter to marketers and cannot be simply relegated to I.T. or another department.

I hope you're getting as much out of Tamara's Big Data MOPS series as I am. As always, thank you for following!


About Author

Tamara Dull

Director of Emerging Technologies

I’m the Director of Emerging Technologies on the SAS Best Practices team, a thought leadership organization at SAS. While hot topics like smart homes and self-driving cars keep me giddy, my current focus is on the Internet of Things, blockchain, big data and privacy – the hype, the reality and the journey. I jumped on the technology fast track 30 years ago, starting with Digital Equipment Corporation. Yes, this was before the internet was born and the sci-fi of yesterday became the reality of today.

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