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A different kind of Facebook privacy issue

I’ve been in Europe the last ten days (coming home today) and it’s easy to see how European cultures differ from that of America, especially when it comes to privacy. In many European countries, privacy protections are much stronger than in the United States, and many Europeans are often more savvy when it comes to what companies know about them, and more suspicious about what is in their public profile. Perhaps it might surprise you, given all the privacy debacles that Facebook has suffered, that Facebook is much more popular than Twitter in many European countries, but it shouldn’t. It all has to do with the default in Facebook that most conversations are private (just shared with your friends) rather than the Twitter default that tweets are public. The end result is that most Facebook conversations are hidden from public view.

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On Twitter, some data is kept private if you request it, and some Facebook data is public, also. But the great majority of Facebook data is private. This affects search results (where you commonly see tweets but not Facebook status updates) and it affects social media monitoring companies. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist for Converseon, which provides social media monitoring services for companies worldwide.]
European companies are no different from their counterparts in the rest of the world, in that they want to monitor conversations in social media for many purposes, including market research. They want to know what their customers are thinking—thinking about them, their products, their competitors, and many other subjects. But if more of the conversation is private, they might learn far less than companies in other markets.
The same problem affected Twitter for a while, because those Twitter searches that you do show only a small subset (some say as low as 20%) of all the tweets that match a search, and those tweets for back only a day or two. Twitter has recently begun licensing 100% of their tweet stream in what’s known as the Twitter firehose. So, Google, Yahoo!, and other companies (Converseon included) are licensing the firehose to give their customers all the tweets that are fit to print.
But will Facebook follow suit? There are a couple of reasons that it might not, and that we might be living with this dearth of status information for the foreseeable future:

  • Facebook has taken a lot of heat on privacy. Facebook has had many missteps on privacy in the last few years and suddenly informing everyone that their status updates will be made public might not go over big. It’s hard to say whether the previous public relations black eyes have chastened Facebook, but they might have.
  • Facebook might not need the money. Twitter licensed its data because it needed some way to reach profitability, and its tweets were always public, so it had no privacy issues with its users. Facebook has found several other ways to bring in cash, so the financial pressure to license its data might not be there, and it might be determined to keep its data to itself, as Google has, because the expectation is that Facebook will make even more from advertising by protecting its data than it can make through licenses to share its data. Time will tell.

So, if your customers operate in Facebook (and whose doesn’t?), you must resign yourself to scouring other forms of social media to gather your information, at least for now. Whether Facebook will eventually license data the way Twitter does is something we all must wait to find out. For the moment, there is no sign of it.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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