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Businesses Need to Clarify How They Use Social Data

Social data is a sensitive issue for both businesses and consumers. As recently as December, we saw mass consumer backlash against Instagram because of the company’s poor communication about changes to its Terms of Service. And while most companies handle their customers’ social data responsibly, new survey data from my company, Gigya, shows that online businesses are not doing a good enough job of communicating how they use social data. For full disclosure, we’ve been focused on privacy issues for quite some time and recently launched a certification program for businesses use social data responsibly.

The study (full details can be found here) asked more than 2,600 18+ year-old U.S. consumers about how they view social login and how they think companies use their social data: 

  • More than half (53%) of consumers have logged into an application or website using social login.
  • Of consumers who have opted not to use social login, 40% say it is because they do not know what will happen to their personal information, and 41% say they are unsure if the site or application would post or share without asking for permission.
  • Of that same group of consumers, 63% believe that businesses will sell their social data, 50% believe businesses will post to their social feeds without permission and 52% think sites will spam their social network friends when they login via social login. 

These statistics indicate a major disconnect between how consumers think businesses will use social data and how those businesses really do use the information. For example, as mandated by Facebook’s Platform Policies, sites cannot sell user social data to third parties, and likewise, they cannot post to users’ social feeds without permission. When companies under or miscommunicate how they use their customers’ social data, they create consumer confusion and even suspicion about how sites access and use personal information.  After all, social data, more than any other type of online consumer data, is personal. People get upset when they think a business will exploit their personal information based on changes in its user agreement.

While the consumer perception that businesses will do things like sell social data is largely incorrect, the onus is on businesses to change that viewpoint. It’s time to take transparency to a level that makes it completely obvious to users that their data will not be abused. When consumers grant your business access to their social profiles via technologies like social login, make it clear not just what data will be accessed but also make an explicit promise to users that their data will not be sold, their friends will not be spammed and that they didn’t just sign up for your company’s newsletter without knowing it. 

In essence, promise your users that you’ll do the right thing by offering a “virtual handshake”, where users grant you access to their data in exchange for value (often personalization or ease-of-use) and transparency. Building and maintaining trust with customers is critical for any business, big or small, on or offline. It’s not just ethical to be transparent about how you will use your customers’ data – it’s good business.

Patrick Salyer (@patricksalyer) is CEO of Gigya, a provider of social infrastructure technology for businesses such as Nike, Pepsi, ABC and NBC. The company recently released SocialPrivacy™ Certification for businesses that offer social login. 

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