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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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Is the use of social media data sustainable?

EU policymakers recently indicated their desire to force companies like Facebook and Google to seek permission to use our personal data, as reported recently in The Guardian

Our research has for a long time shown that consumers are currently not aware of how businesses use their data online and that the majority of teens view social media as a ‘social space’ and not a business one. Therefore businesses should enter this space with care – for fear of gatecrashing the party.

Anecdotal evidence is that businesses haven’t always entered with due care and attention and that, in fact, the leading players, like Facebook and Google have sometimes been the worst at pushing privacy issues to the side as they try to monetise the data they hold. It is said to be in the interests of giving consumers greater convenience and better products.

This week we released some new data from our Digital Future project (examining under 18s use of digital media) showing an increasing trend towards giving false information online which demonstrates their increasing desire to remain anonymous from businesses.

Where businesses do not accurately reflect their consumers’ needs, policymakers and law sometimes needs to. The article from The Guardian shows that policymakers are beginning to think there is a need for them to step in. This tension over personal data should not be a surprise. It has become an increasing issue across the whole of business – with IT compliance, payment systems and provision of customer lists to third parties like research agencies. Why should social media be any different? In all other aspects of consumer data, companies have to ask for permission and ‘be clear how the data will be used’ and ‘who it will be used by’.

On the social media side, it is argued that ‘the data is in the public domain, put there by the consumer’.  True. But do they have all the facts as to how the data they put there is being used? Is it reasonable to expect the person in the street to understand how data is recorded and used?

The debate will run for a long time to come. I believe the businesses that will win in the long term are those that embrace transparency and involve the consumer honestly in how their data is used.

What do you think?

Has the ‘soft underbelly’ of social media monitoring been found? At the end of 2010, I heard Andrew Keen, from Silicon Valley, speak about the risk that the future of social media monitoring would be undermined when the consumer realised how their data was being used (The full video is here


3 Comments for "Is the use of social media data sustainable?"

Annie Pettit

Conversition Conversition

The soft underbelly has been exposed all along. This is why market researchers are in a prime position. We have created privacy policies and responder right documents to ensure that we, as an industry, treat people properly. When governments create legislation to protect people's data from unscrupulous users, our ongoing commitment to responders will keep us ahead of the game.

Maria Twigge

Intersperience Intersperience

Hello Annie, I do agree in the market research industry careful steps have been taken to inform and protect participants. When we analyse behaviours on social media how can we ensure we continue to uphold these standards? Is now the time for social sites to pick up on our double opt-in, informed consent and explicit data use policies?

Paul Hudson

Intersperience Intersperience

Whilst we, in the research industry, have all been aware that the data protection issues have been exposed all along - and have therefore create guidelines as to how SM data should be used - research shows that consumer's have never been fully aware of how their data is being used. And the real soft underbelly of social media monitoring is that when they become fully aware their behaviour is likely to change and they become more guarded about what they post. And if they don't, then the policy makers now indicate they will force change.

In primary research, we as MR agencies are in control of getting permission for how we use consumer data. But FB and Google are currently not obliged to seek explicit consent for using consumer data for a range of things, including for use in MR. If this is forced on them, then surely social media monitoring will be impacted - for a start we will have a much smaller data set available (because less data will be consented to be used and consumers will become more guarded about what they post as they become more aware of how business use Social Media data).

This does mean that more traditional formats for gathering consumer feedback will become more important (again) and Social Media Monitoring will not be able to pick up the full picture in the way it is currently being predicted that it will.

The soft underbelly of Social Media is that consumers are not aware of how their data is used. And policy makers look certain to act on this and enforce that the data is subject to the same explicit consent that other forms of data are.

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