What Zuckerberg’s testimony teaches us about user privacy and control

 In ad blocking, advertising, disruption, facebook, privacy
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Last night I watched the Mark Zuckerberg testimony – it was a long 5 hours and ended sometime after midnight here in London. I’m not going to provide a full review of his testimony, many others will have done this already.

I did provide some real-time commentary over on my twitter feed which you may wish to have a look at @andrewgrill

A few moments of the hearing really stood out for me.

Zuckerberg was asked by one Senator if he would be happy to provide the name of the hotel he stayed in last night in Washington. After a notable pause, Zuckerberg said no.

So Zuckerberg was asked to provide personal information and in this case, did not provide consent – as was his right. Multiple times Zuckerberg mentioned the level of “control” that users have within Facebook “in-line” where they can control who sees their posts.

He also mentioned that Facebook users “own their data” and a number of times the Facebook terms of service were brought up.

Senator John Kennedy won the quote of the night, saying that Facebook’s user agreement “sucked”.

Several times Zuckerberg used the fact that even if users did not read the user agreement, it still applied.

A number of senators picked up on something I have been saying for a while, the fact that the Facebook agreement is one-way.

I have to agree to Facebook’s terms but there is no way for me to negotiate my own terms before I use their service.

In a recent blog post on LinkedIn and here, I told Facebook that my terms and conditions have changed and set out how I wanted to deal with their services going forward.

The launch of GDPR has within it principles that companies should collect the bare minimum amount of information required to provide the service.

This is likely to really hit Facebook as they apparently “collect” up to 96 pieces of personal data, most of which I would argue you don’t need to use the service. I believe that the world has changed fundamentally over the last 10 or 15 years.

Before Facebook and social media, the most information a company collected on you might have been your name, your home address your mobile number and an email address. From this, marketers had to put you in a “customer segment” based on this scant information – and assumptions were made about your earning potential, political leanings and interests etc.  

The value of your raw information was very small because advertisers had to do all the hard work to make any sense of it. Now, with Facebook YOU do all the hard work – actually TELLING an advertiser a treasure of information such as your age
(ever wonder why Facebook loves wishing you a happy birthday?), and potentially your religious beliefs, political leanings, part-time passions all through the things that you “like”.

With YOUR data now being so very valuable, consumers need to be assertive enough to put our collective hands out and ask for payment.

Zuckerberg at one stage was asked how they make money. Senator Hatch asked, ”how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

“We sell Ads, Senator” was his response, which by now has become an internet meme.

Zuckerberg took time to strongly defended their ad-based model and there was discussion around the hint from Sheryl Sandberg that Facebook might offer a paid service to remove ads. Zuckerberg said, “Even though some people don’t like ads, people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant”.

He added that “Facebook needs some kind of business model”, and defended the ad-supported approach as “the only way we can reach billions of people.” Translation: the only way we know how to make lots of money.

Well, I don’t like ads, so I use an ad-blocker. I don’t see the traditional internet ads and even some of the Facebook newsfeed ads are blocked as well. When for some reason I do see an ad, I get annoyed because they are rarely about anything I am remotely interested in.

I remember when Facebook started putting ads in the newsfeed I had a bunch of gambling ads and I’ve never gambled.

Last week I read that “Shorter, skippable ads will be coming to YouTube”. Hooray, I thought. But this announcement wasn’t to benefit consumers, YouTube says they are introducing a new way for advertisers to “maximize reach” from their shorter ads. If YouTube thought we loved ads, then they would never have allowed us to skip them.

We skip ads BECAUSE WE DON’T LIKE THEM!

A new model is needed.

In an upcoming vlog I will outline how I believe we are less than 5 years away from not seeing ads at all, and instead have our AI enabled digital assistant read and filter them on our behalf.

In a post-GDPR world, consumers will be in a better position to truly own their data, and it won’t be sitting on a Facebook server, it will be under my full control on my personal cloud and if Facebook wants to use my personal data for ad targeting, they will have to ask permission and pay a fee of some sort each and every time.

You see that’s real control and real ownership of my data.

Watch this space, it’s about to get interesting.

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About 

Based in London, Practical Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and commentator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.