The question that kept coming up during Mark Zuckerberg’s 2-day congressional testimony was, Just what is Facebook anyway?
The other takeaway was the scene from Animal House when the Delta House fraternity brothers were confronted by Dean Wormer after their disastrous mid-term grades:
or a kid explaining to his parents that he had an accident with the family car and was telling them how smart they were in getting Allstate’s new “accident forgiveness” plan with his ending up grounded:
Or possibly, borrowing the title from the 1970 novel by Austrian writer Peter Handke, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, adapted into a 1972 film with the same title, to express Mr. Zuckerberg’s nervousness before Congress for his company’s harvesting 87 million users’ personal information without their consent to sell to a foreign research firm, Cambridge Analytica.
OK, so what was Mr. Zuckerberg defending anyway? Is Facebook a media platform? Is it a distribution service? Is it neither? Mr. Zuckerberg says it is a technology platform–it provides the tools for people to connect with one another.
That’s fine for as far as it goes but if you want to make money connecting people, and Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook want to make money, then you have to monetize that connectivity.
And boy, has Mr. Zuckerberg monetized the social platform’s connection with 2.2 billion people.
Why is this important?
Consider the slide offered last week by Mike Wellens in terms of the critical importance of an organization or business being able to segment its target customers: demographics (i.e., age), geographic (i.e., their location), geo-demographic (ex., urban professional), psychographic (i.e., lifestyle), behavioral (ex., tech-savvy), and contextual (ex., empty nester).
So, if one data mined Facebook’s users and their myriad contacts, one could, for example, find, as the NY Times offered in how Facebook brands and politicians can target us:
Find me: “Anyone who lives in Philadelphia, studies philosophy in college, is 21, has bought a blue T-shirt in the past year, is neurotic, makes less than $25,000 a year, is likely to buy a minivan in the next six months, is interested in camping and whose interests align with those of African-Americans. Plus anyone on Facebook who is similar to them.”
So, if indeed knowing as much about your customers as possible is important for marketers, advertisers, campaign managers, and everyone else hoping to sell a product to a customer (or a candidate to a voter) then monetizing Facebook’s huge user base and their profiles becomes gold and indeed gold is what Mr. Zuckerberg is hoping to earn for Facebook.
To continue the analogy, is it too much to hope for that a 33-year old who dreamt big dreams in his dorm room 14 years ago and made them come true beyond anyone’s imagination and who is now worth $60 billion might be tempted to sell the profile data (the technical and legal words are crawling/scraping/harvesting) from his user base in order to advance his monetary goals?
Does a kid want to take his parents’ car out for a joy ride? Do fraternities like to have parties and maybe indulge in under-age drinking while skipping their homework?
No and yes. But clearly, Mr. Zuckerberg’s little snafu with Cambridge Analytica now has both the Congress of the United States, the Federal Government’s regulatory agencies, and numerous NGO’s, not to mention social media users, looking at how social media platforms, including Facebook, safeguard their users’ data and what laws, regulations, or policies need to be implemented to assure that they are.
A can of worms? No doubt. When Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked what he would do if he were in this situation, he replied, “I would not be in this situation.”
Clearly Mr. Zuckerberg has a lot of homework to do when he gets back to campus and so do his other social media fraternity brothers. I guess Saturday’s “hackathon” will have to have a new twist: how can nefarious organizations be stopped from misusing Facebook’s platform and how can they still make money and not secretly scrape people’s data?
More Red Bull anyone?