As of this writing, if you Google the words "Facebook" and "privacy," the fourth result is an article about a lawsuit over privacy concerns. According to International Business Times, "The complaint centers around Facebook's photo-tagging feature," and the revelation that Facebook is creating "shadow-profiles" of non-users. Facebook is using "biometric" face recognition technology to collect data on not only its users, but on everyone else who shows up in its pages as well-which violates Illinois law.
By now it's no secret: what a user posts on Facebook can easily end up in someone else's hands. In the smallest corners of the web there are stories circulating on the subject, such as here, on a new site promoting photo privacy and offering multiple Facebook case studies to serve as alarming examples of potential privacy concerns. On the other side of the web traffic spectrum, any casual news consumer can find an article on Huffington Post, one of America's largest internet new sources, about kids' Facebook photos being used to promote porn sites.
So what does this spell for marketing on Facebook? Should marketers be worried about the efficacy of using a network some consider shady? In terms of the bottom line, should businesses be worried bad press will drive away potential users and conversions?
The case for Facebook
First, the efficacy dilemma. When you Google "Facebook privacy" what you don't see on the first page is any sort of story about the social network's most recent attempt at addressing the privacy concerns. Now users can employ PGP ('pretty good privacy') public encryption keys in their settings. The keys create the potential for users to send messages on a completely private, secure network. They also allow the user to encrypt outbound notifications, which go straight to the email inbox of choice.
This comes on top of the announcement from Facebook last year that users can employ the Tor onion service to access the social network. Tor hides a server's IP address and makes it impossible for Internet Service Providers to identify users. Tor renders the user completely anonymous while using Facebook.
Tor and the public encryption keys are vital for individuals such as journalists, who want to communicate with sources sensitive to the privacy of their communications. Security tools can mean the difference between getting the scoop and being passed over in favor of a more discreet press correspondent. Companies who are ambivalent about marketing on Facebook because of the efficacy question can point to these privacy protection tools as an answer to the concern.
In terms of the numbers, we know the network is a behemoth. Wolfram Alpha reports the number of active users at around one billion. Meanwhile, the recent PEW Research study on teen usage estimates 71% of teens use Facebook. This is important because of the influence teens have on household spending decisions. One set of numbers from Statistic Brain estimates the combined total of teen spending, plus family spending on teens, at $416.3 billion.
The case against
There is still the nagging question of how Facebook will face the lawsuits. The one I mentioned at the beginning of this article was number two for the month of April. Zuckerberg and Co. will throw money at the problem, the problem being the data collection on non-users. Facebook could be collecting this data for marketing purposes, for NSA spying purposes, or for both. Meanwhile, there is the issue of antitrust legal battles that will play out in Europe.
It doesn't look like there will be fewer users on Facebook, especially since it's becoming the primary source for news. Given Facebook's algorithm manipulation, we can probably be assured users won't see articles popping up about privacy concerns on Facebook. But of course we see these types of articles on the first page of Google's search results due to Google's own algorithm.
The case against marketing on Facebook looks like a matter of visibility. In other words, are readers going to see the negative stories or the positive ones? If Google can compete for the readers' news appetite-and Google is still a big competitor never to be counted out-we can expect to see Facebook's bad press continue to get attention.
But will that keep anyone from using Facebook? This is the same as asking if users actually care about privacy and security (polls say 93% do). For now if you're considering the issues of privacy and security, the Facebook field is muddy, but due to the new encryption developments it's not a reason to rule out marketing on the network just yet.