Why Increasing Awareness About Online Privacy is Bad for ‘Big Social’

Social media users are becoming more savvy about online privacy, which could threaten the major players in the industry.



Privacy has been a massive issue of late, as more companies have their data compromised or the government steps in to regulate what networks are doing. The apparent casualty through all the turmoil in the social media industry is user privacy. According to Jonathan Salem Baskin, a contributor to Forbes, big social media could be the ultimate victim.

“Considering the low thresholds of user loyalty these platforms command, and the inexpensive ease by which true P2P communicating can be accomplished, I wonder how long before the leading ‘Big Social’ companies either address the issue clearly, or are forced by regulators or consumers to suffer the consequences of failing to do so,” Baskin writes.

Indeed, as the security of user data comes into question, networks like Snapchat, Google and Facebook are already being audited by the FTC. Users also taking to messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Kik to avoid exposing their updates or data unnecessarily.

Bigger social networks make their money by advertising based on the user data they’ve collected. As the desire to get ads in front of eyes increases, more data is being pulled in to serve that purpose. The terms and conditions for the use of this data are often vague, or possibly deliberately complex.

“The profitability of these services depends on users remaining unaware of the extent to which their privacy is (or will be) exploited,” according to Baskin.

With every email encouraging them to change their password because of hackers or Heartbleed, users become more aware and concerned about privacy issues. They also gain awareness when they read another story about Facebook buying one of their favorite services. And that’s bad news for the bottom line of big social networks.

Baskin sees a disgruntled mass on the horizon: Users that are fed up with changing passwords, or cancelling credit cards, or accidentally posting an intimate thought to the world when the privacy settings change again.

It might be prompted by government action, another particularly scary data breach, a truly populist alternative to one or another commercial platform, or some other unanticipated jolt. Maybe one or more particularly enlightened businesses realize that successfully addressing the [privacy] issue could be a competitive differentiator from businesses that continue to shrug it aside.