In the age of ubiquitous internet access and incessant social networking usage, many companies are turning to services such as Facebook in order to kick-start marketing campaigns and to drive traffic to their sites.
However, there are those who fear the dominance of Facebook. It would seem that, in some quarters at least, the firm's mixed reputation regarding data collection and privacy is eroding the levels of trust which had previously ingratiated it with those involved in the consumer engagement process. Even new developments that are clearly in consumers’ interests, such as the sharing of Facebook’s URL blacklists with five security software companies to stop the sharing of links to malicious websites on their network, could be viewed by consumers as onerous.
Part of the problem is that, in the online world, data has become a currency in and of itself. Consumers have become reluctant to part with hard cash in return for online content, reflecting the growing availability of 'free' services. The process can be beneficial for both parties if user data is provided as part of the transaction.
It seems reasonable to assume that most end users would be happy to provide marketers with data if the online environment was in such a state that this practice was not treated with considerable suspicion. However, the harvesting of information by Facebook and its peers is an act in which users are necessarily complicit regardless as to any qualms they may have. Some view this approach to the transaction as less than fair or balanced.
One problematic factor is that users end up feeling as though they are being placed under surveillance. Even if Facebook itself behaves benevolently, it provides the tools to track movement, follow actions and ultimately alter lives in a manner that is not necessarily positive.
While Facebook's behaviour does not directly reflect on marketers and their brands, its hundreds of millions of users are beginning to suffer from the misconception that all forms of data collection are to be viewed with some scepticism.
This clearly has an impact on any businesses that require data as a means of fuelling growth and accurately targeting future campaigns.
This is not only an issue that affects the views of the online public, but it alters the perception of data collecting activities in the eyes of the authorities. Increased scrutiny is not going to be problematic for those firms acting honourably, but it will likely become yet another item to put on the agenda when planning any significant campaigns.
Facebook is making significant attempts to address these issues in the public eye, clarifying the ways in which users' data is employed. This includes making some tweaks to their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities in advance of their IPO, reportedly in reaction to consumer concerns about how privacy and user data is handled.
Ultimately, however, it needs to create an atmosphere in which people feel confident when sharing information online. This will allow marketers and other companies, which increasingly rely upon the ecosystem that continues to develop around social networking, to continue with essential data collection activities.