Sunday 11 March 2012

Stripping away the Facebook mask

Do you understand Facebook? I don't. I don't understand the opaque navigation, how to switch things on and off, the difference between a group and a community and so on. Nor do I understand the privacy policy. One reason, in fact the major reason, why I don't understand is because I can't be bothered to try and understand. All I want to do is connect with someone from time to time. And that is precisely what 90% of Facebook users want to do as well. It is meant to be social media not an obstacle course for geeks. Facebook use this human trait to make money. Perhaps the entire wealth producing model of Facebook is based on our apathy towards detail and complicated, time consuming things that we consider irrelevant.

The new Google Plus One button works in a similar way. They changed their search process, the core of their business, in a fairly quiet way by providing a personalised search as a default. This is a completely different way of searching, but did the man on top of the Clapham omnibus notice the change? You can turn off this customised search that is based on your personal profile, your likes and dislikes, your habits etc. But do you turn it off? Do you know where and how to turn it off, and more importantly can you be bothered to do it? Do you want a neutral search of the Internet or be spoon fed by big brother!

The banks work in the same way and make billions from our lack of concern. They create this lack of concern by making the rules complicated and opaque. We don't have the time, inclination, brain power or desire to wade through terms and conditions of bank agreements. For that reason, in the UK, they were able to mislead millions of people by selling them mortgage protection insurance without them being aware of it. These unfortunate people paid for the insurance premiums by a surcharge on the mortgage payments. Over the lifetime of the mortgage this amounted to thousands of pounds.

The insurance companies use our lack of understanding and apathy in the same way in selling poor policies and investments that just don't perform. Endowment policies are a classic example. The telephone companies have very complicated "tariffs" for the same reason - to baffle us. I won't go on.

We are told that Facebook is worth about $100 billion (one thousand million USD). That is what the financial boys call the IPO - initial public offering - shares offered to the public based on a valuation by "experts".

This valuation is based on the wealth of the personal information on the 800+ million Facebook members (March 2012) that is stored on FB's servers. This information is valuable to business. It is certainly by far the greatest repository of information about humankind ever compiled. We have given Facebook that information initially and throughout our use of the site. It seems that the almost invisible advertising revenue is very secondary.

You can delete your Facebook account "permanently" (see full data use policy). What does the word "account" mean? Does it include all your inputted information and all the information that you left on Facebook in a trail of activity while interacting with others? I am sure it does not, which means some information is not deleted. It can take 90 days to delete an account. What happens between day one and day 90 at Facebook with respect to that information?

When big business confuses us it uses us.

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