Internet users expect free services and content. News, email, games and social networks are among the most popular “free” services. Initially, web sites simply wanted your page views to fuel their advertising income. Then they asked you for your email to send you newsletters with ads in them. As advertising became targeted, sites demanded more information such as gender, date of birth, address and credit card number. Then social networks exploded and we willingly handed over our entire lives and relationships. With the current advertising formats being rolled out on Facebook and Twitter, our thoughts and opinions have become the latest data sets for marketeers. Mobile surfing means our locations are now on offer as well.
If we measure the cost of “free” services to a user in terms of the volume of personal data that he or she needs to reveal, it is clear that the cost of Free has a very high inflation rate. “Data is the new oil” is now a conference PowerPoint cliché and consumers are the oil reserves.
Will this change? Is there a time where people will demand compensation for revealing their personal information or for receiving customised marketing messages?
The obvious answer is No. Anyone who thinks the opposite will likely be old enough to remember life before the Internet. Privacy is on a one way trip to extinction.
Don’t waste your time mourning the loss of privacy. Instead, think about how your business can benefit from it to better understand customers, tailor services and exceed expectations.
Joining Google+ has again forced the question that now faces everyone who lives in the dual physical world and virtual social media world: what part of you does your online identity represent? It used to be simple: Facebook for most started as the extension of your personal relationships (friends, family etc.). LinkedIn was the extension of your professional self. Gradually, the lines blurred, with twitter and Facebook interactions accelerating the mixed work-personal presence online.
When I first logged into google+, I was surprised to see that google had an image of my 1 month old baby daughter as my profile picture. After resisting the desire to check if someone was hiding in my closet or if a program was snooping on my laptop, I realised it is because that is the picture I had chosen in Google Talk on my phone. Google Talk is a tool I use for personal conversations with friends and family so no issues there, but I didn’t want my public google profile to have the same picture as I consider it “private” (in the modern sense of online privacy, ie not very private but not totally public either!).
But Google+ seems to be all social tools in one. Its stream is like Facebook’s. The profile page combined with the Work circle is like LinkedIn. Its “following” circle is like twitter. Hangout is like Skype (with Google Wave DNA). So what part of you do you put on it? How do you keep your professional and personal identities separate? Google’s circles try to help in this by differentiating your social groups so you don’t have to share everything with everyone.
Perhaps the question of trying to separate your personal and professional identities is no longer valid. In a digital world where information can be compiled and compared so easily, is it even worth the effort to present different versions of yourself? On the face of it, being your genuine self and transparency sound like great ideals to strive for. But in reality, I am sure all of us can think of examples where we prefer not to know the true nature of everyone in our social circles!