This week Facebook has reported Q4 profits in excess of $500m, as well as a 63% increase in revenue, exceeding expectations. The main source of this growth is mobile advertising sales, with overall advertising revenue being up 76% from the same period last year. Not bad for a company that doesn’t charge its users.
No matter how much we might like to think that we use Facebook ‘for free’, the truth is our online content is being bought and sold more than we may wish to think. Let’s be realistic here – when Facebook first floated on the stock market in May 2012, people weren’t buying shares in a tech company or a novel website. Instead, they were investing in a treasure trove of personal data from almost a billion people, betting on the fact that other companies would pay lots of money to access it, and the value of that data would increase over time.
But that’s just Facebook. There are a multitude of other networks out there that we might create or share content on. Many of these will be selling advertising space or opportunities to third-parties, based upon the information about you that the networks hold. They don’t necessarily share the specific data with the third-parties, but they are able to offer them the chance to get in front of Xty-X thousand people aged between XX and XY, who have at some point implied they have an interest in fields A, B and C…
This makes a lot of companies a lot of money. But it’s staggering to think how inaccurate big data can be. I’ve written before about how what you ‘like’ on social networks can often be very far from the truth. Every social network we are connected on, every account we hold with a utilities provider, every fitness app use – they all have a segment of information pertaining to who we really are. However, segments do not necessarily give an accurate representation of the whole, as anyone familiar with the apple example from Carl Sagan’s explanation of Edwin Abbott’s concept of ‘Flatland’ will appreciate:
But what on earth has this got to do with Facebook’s Q4 revenue report? Well, Facebook’s handsome bottom line demonstrates that your fragmented data can make a lot of money for other people, without it being totally accurate. Think for a moment about how valuable a complete, contextual and accurate image of you would be to advertisers and service providers. Then think about how you might be able to benefit from sharing the necessary information with these businesses – better deals on insurance, personalised recommendations and offers, even monetary remuneration for granting temporary access to your library of data.
Big data might work for the larger companies with a scatter-gun approach to ‘targeted’ advertising, but for the individual it often manifests itself as irritating adverts appearing on the websites they frequent. Lots of perfect little data makes up and individual, and it is our belief that you should be the single biggest owner of your own data. With SocialSafe, our vision is to put individuals back in control of all their data – not just the content from social networks – so that they can temporarily permission others access to this data only if it benefits them directly.