With businesses and general members of the public increasingly using social media to express their elation and vent their spleen about their day-to-day lives, it rarely crosses many people’s minds just how much information they are broadcasting and what social media sites might be doing with it.
Last month, Facebook found itself under scrutiny as a result of an ‘emotion study’ it performed in 2012, which saw personalised content directed at hundreds of thousands of users without their permission. Facebook has argued that specific personal details were not targeted, but it has left some users questioning their trust of the social media platform, and has even led one organisation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to submit a formal complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission.
Another interesting (and seemingly more fun) development has recently arrived in the form of the Five Labs tool. A clever function, this connects with the user’s Facebook account, analyses their posts and comes to a conclusion about what type of personality they are. The visual representations provided can even be compared to those of such figures as Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Intriguing and novel as this function is, it does raise questions about how this information could be used to deduce what types of people are using social media, and what forms of language might best reach out to them.
In many ways, technology and communication are moving more quickly than data protection laws can react to them. Last month’s SAScon convention in Manchester talked of companies like Acxiom, which holds 1,500 data points on the average American. That’s right, the average American, so those that like to make everything they see and do public are probably revealing a lot more than this.
The comedian Jack Vale is one man who has gone out of his way to demonstrate just how much a person’s Facebook account can tell the average Joe. Whether this is in the name of raising awareness or just creeping people out for a laugh is debatable, but as Vale speaks to perfect strangers about their pets, children and dining habits, their reactions range from amused to disturbed. Remember though, he hasn’t been searching through their bins or hiding in their cupboards; this is all information they’ve made publicly viewable on the internet.
Caution should always be advised when using social media, but sites like Facebook and Twitter remain a crucial part of how we communicate in 2014, and therefore a key component of giving a company an online presence. If nothing else, these examples demonstrate just how immersed in social media we are and that what we do is widely observed, which can only be a good thing in terms of business outreach.