Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Facebook and Dueling "Cost Benefit" Privacy Calculations

Facebook and Dueling "Cost Benefit" Privacy Calculations

By Dennis D. McDonald

Bruce Nussbaum’s Facebook’s Culture Problem May Be Fatal is one of the crisper analyses I’ve read of the current problems Facebook faces regarding conflicts between its emerging business model and the “privacy” of its members. His comments about culture shifts, demographics, and what happens when young people mature are things I’ve believed for a long time

Even though he presents no real data to support his views I do find his comments to have face validity; people change and go elsewhere as they change.

So what else is new? My own lens for understanding what happens about Facebook is relatively simple: Facebook users and Facebook advertisers are playing a simple game of “dueling cost benefit calculations.” The game goes something like this:

  • USER: is the cost to me of giving up personal details that might come back to haunt me worth the benefits I gain from using Facebook?
  • ADVERTISER: is the cost of upsetting users by targeting them based on their personal data worth the increased sales I gain from better personalization?

Clearly the two are intertwined. I’m leaving out for the moment the stupidity of posting pictures of drunken brawls and the like that can later be used against you by potential employers; there the simple maxim “don’t be stupid” should suffice. Using free tools has always involved a cost benefit calculation of some sort, whether that tool is Facebook, free software, or “free lunch.” There’s always a catch. Part of maturing involves understandng how to manage the “catch.”

With Facebook the calculation for me is really quite simple. Anything that exposes me to more advertising that I can’t easily filter out, even if that advertising is designed and served up based on my unique set of personality and experience characteristics, is something I want to avoid.  I want to control my own information seeking and shopping experiences, thank you. That’s why I avoid commercial TV and commercial radio, and that’s why I pay for various social networks and email systems as opposed to using the “free” versions.

Providing a Facebook advertiser with more information so he or she can finely tune a sales pitch is not why I involve myself in social or collaborative experiences. This is one reason Facebook’s past examples of making privacy controls so cumbersome to monitor and control have infuriated so many people. Once “customer trust” is abused it’s very difficult to restore, no matter what the current version of the user agreement states.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald

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