Family trips. New babies. Engagements and weddings. Changing jobs. These are all the milestones most of us experience in our lives. Being able to share those milestones electronically with family and friends is just one of the ways that social media has opened up our lives and changed the way that we interact with each other every day. While we are now smart enough (for the most part) to lock up our profiles and milestones to the general public, we have also learned that what we put on the internet stays on the internet.
But what exactly happens to everything that we put online? Where is the information stored, and how is it used?
We see the term "Big Data" being thrown around on tech sites, in the media, but do we really understand what it means? Big Data is an ID, a series of 1s and 0s that store every piece of relevant information about us. Rows upon rows of servers in rows upon rows of buildings, kept at a low temperature, guarded by the most sophisticated security tech in the world, but for what? What makes the information that we put on the internet every day so valuable, exactly?
When you log into your favourite shopping site, buy a new pair of shoes, or even change your mind at the last minute, that session is recorded. That data is compiled. When you then log into a social network afterward you might see an ad pop up in the sidebar, an ad from the website you were just on. Crazy coincidence, right? Wrong. This is called "Re-marketing" Based on your actions on any given site you are parlaying information in a series of 1s and 0s that says you either made a purchase or didn't. On those sites you pick up cookies and those cookies tell the social networks you're on where you've been and when. That helps the social networks create auto-generated ads fed directly to you based on what you like. Why? So you're more likely to make a purchase, of course!
But what about those milestones? How do they play into the "big data" that we sell to social networks in exchange for a free, easy way to communicate with almost everyone we know at the click of a button? Well... for starters because they know what you're doing, where you live, work and what your last "milestone" was, they're able to create advertising that is specific not only to your browsing habits, but what you are doing at that particular moment. It's why Mom sees ads for minivans, jewellery and kid products while Dad sees ads for golf getaways, sports cars and ESPN.
Because marketers are able to zero in on exactly what our spending habits are, and data scientists can crunch numbers to predict not only what you're most likely to be interested in buying at this particular moment, but in the next 6, 9, or even 12 months, big data, our data, is worth more than you can imagine.
So, while it may not have cost you anything to sign up for your Facebook account, store thousands of photos and millions of interactions, the information harvested from your actions is worth more than a monthly fee could ever generate. While Facebook may not be selling our addresses or identities off to the highest bidder, specifically, they are selling our data as a whole.
Though the thought of having your personal information sold on a global scale can be unsettling, do know that our UID (User IDs) are anonymous and Facebook has taken measures to keep their users safe. They track users as segregated groups as opposed to individual users to ensure that advertisers and companies can't prey specifically on one person, but to people belonging to certain user groups, like "Recently Married," "Works for X Company," or based on listed interests. As a person whose information is being sold the idea can be uncomfortable, but for me at least, if I have to be advertised to (let's face it that is what the internet is all about!) then at least I would rather be advertised to with products, content, and services that are relevant and interesting to me.
What do you think? Should Facebook be able to sell our data? Would you stop using social networks to prevent your data from being gathered online?