Would Aristotle use Facebook?

Internet players wrestling for control of your footprint

Whatever the personal reason for joining and participating in social networking, the debate has moved from being fashionable to how the key social networking players can unwittingly extend their influence and control of you.   Facebook wants to move from the confines of their own social networking cloud and be able to monitise property outside of their immediate control; hence the introduction by Facebook of opengraph and ‘Like’. The understanding of these new tools is, however, being over shadowed by the privacy setting debate which is also critical to the new Facebook model and its new utility.  The privacy setting allows Facebook to gain relationship data (digital footprint) and together with the tools change the internet from a Google ad centric world, into a relationship dependant Facebook ad centric world.


Issue 101. Control of Privacy settings

It has become evident that social networks will live or die by their privacy policy. Most users appear capable of providing their own interpretation of what privacy controls they would like.  Good tools will enable users to control the level of inclusion or exclusion of information about themselves and thereby control how much they reveal of themselves selectively, with tools that they understand and control.  However, whilst privacy is about the change of control, private is what you have elected or selected not to make public and a company should not be able to elect to change this default or set it open so you have to close it.




Private to Public is not a binary setting

However, when the private/ public issues is represented using a simplistic model such as a straight line, as above, it shows them as a binary choice, with an area of cross over, in the same way good/ evil can be represented and both of these models highlight the inadequacies of the straight line of choice, and specifically with private/public it does not provide enough context or insight to the real issues.  In philosophy, Aristotle presented the idea of a Golden Mean as the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example courage, a virtue, if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness and if deficient as cowardice.  


Applying the analogy from this philosophy to the private/ public debate removes the simple binary judgment and provides are two possible models.  Public is two extremes with private in the middle or vice-versa.  I “like” the public at either end approach as at one end public could mean broadcast TV, newspapers, open, contextual, edited and time bounded.  The other public could be internet public, closed, non-contextual, raw and timeless.  This removes the binary extremes and grey area of public vs private debate moving the debate away from privacy policy towards how we define and articulate public as two extremes.


To subtle to notice

When you consider what is private within these boundaries, it highlights some common assumptions.  Public tends to mean to the general population the broadcast TV model, where we instinctively know how little we should trust headlines but also how rapidly its value can be eroded.  However if this is the only understanding of public we hold, it is inevitable that users will miss the subtlety of the internet public model and the critical issues such as timeless (never deleted) and lack of context (provision of historical context when looking at past materials)


And the Problem is?

For social networking to remain free it needs a business model.  An attractive model is to take your digital footprint, analyse it and sell adverts based on your preferences and relationships.  However, to demand that users continually update their information is hard, therefore when they are out and about in the internet make it possible to “Like” things that automatically updates their profile (and attractiveness for advertising).  However to deliver this, users must change their privacy settings so that social networking site can exploit their data.  Therefore social networking site need to achieve several things.  First, make everything public, but users don’t understand what public means for Internet data.  Second, make it easy for users to deliver new information from outside their bounded network, but users don’t understand the implications.  Three, analyse and sell relationship data, but are users getting a fair trade?


Is there a trade fair?

Applying the understanding of the eight business model built in “My Digital Footprint” there should be a trade for opting for a more public use of your data.  In one direction towards broadcast the trade for your privacy may be for fame and fortune, in the other direction towards trading your privacy on the internet it should be for services.  


An interesting question becomes, in the trade for your Internet privacy, is there sufficient utility offered by the free application providers?  With Google you provide only public data (search key words, nothing is private) and you receive relevant search results.  With Facebook and social networking you provide relationship and private data for a free utility, but what is the utility?  Is it a tribe, is it communication, is it sharing platform, it is a representation of the physical you in a digital world, is it organisation or a new state or a new country, is it connection or is it a channel?   With such an unclear utility, why will users continue to provide more personal data?


Will Facebook survive? 

Overall I have no doubt it will survive but in what form is a more difficult judgement call as Facebook has highlighted that the value of our relationships is sufficiently high that they need them and are willing to risk their Brand to get  more of our digital footprint.  The utility question, trade for our information and implementation of its privacy setting, however, does open up the possibility for new entrants.  It is na├»ve to say that inertia; my grandma and friends will not change, is enough to keep the social networking market closed. It is possible to your export data, difficult but this will happen.  It is not impossible to see that a new social media company will offer 50% of its equity to users as a trade for moving and privacy.  It also possible to see that your generic login becomes the mechanism to find unique discounts for you, all these open up the market and trade they I hope will provide a more even value balance for users.


So What!

Internet business models are predicated on the user being the provider of the data and the consumer of the data, with the business focussed on sitting between the two and adding value.  There is a battle for your data and relationships and therefore one of the implications of “my digital footprint” thinking is about the alignment of Brand values and the how the company protects and uses digital footprint data.