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Something's going on with our personal data on the web

17 April 2014 / 17:04:05  GRReporter
4580 reads

Ivan Petkov

We associate social networks with the freedom to share information in a way unprecedented in human history. It turns out, however, that although they have been created to facilitate communication between people, social networks are beginning to impose a certain kind of censorship whereas they themselves are constrained by various governments around the world. Today we will talk about censorship and self-censorship on social networks.

I like, I like, I like ... and less reaches me.

You may have noticed that Facebook can present information sorted by different criteria, by relevance and popularity, for example. This is something you can control but have you asked yourself how the social network determines which information shared by your friends is interesting to you? Certainly, it uses an algorithm but even the best algorithm cannot predict your mood or what you want to see and how your interests have changed... Such filtration is reasonable, especially when it comes to too "social" users who have reached the limit of number of friends and pages liked. Experts estimate that there may be cases in which such users would receive 15,000 shares per day, a volume of information that is impossible to be assimilated. The average user receives about 1,500 shares a day, a volume that is also far from the processing capabilities of any user, even if he or she spends all day on the social network. It is clear that the organization of this information is of great importance. That is why Facebook rates the users with whom one communicates most frequently as well as those of them who are most important for him or her in order to show more of their shares. This does not mean that the information shared by a friend who rarely uses the web will be less important.

We can call this kind of restricting our access to information "censorship of volume".

I publish, share, sell... and reach fewer fans.

After all books, publications and advertisements about free marketing on social networks, it rarely occurs to us that Facebook is a business. A business that is increasingly dependent on advertising and looking for ways to attract more advertisers. What would a company that has developed a successful Facebook page gain from advertising on the social network? The answer is simple, namely, that, over time, Facebook is increasingly restricting the organic distribution of companies’ posts to their fans.

The devil is in the details, as they say. If in February 2012 the posted information reached 16% of a Facebook page fans, this percentage has decreased progressively over time:

• September 2013 = 12.60%
• November 2013 = 10.15%
• December 2013 = 7.83%
• March 2014 = 6.51%

To put it bluntly, if you want to reach the other nearly 94% of the fans of your Facebook page, then you should use paid advertising. In the case of commercial organizations, this is understandable. They advertise to sell. However, what is the excuse if you have a page of a non-profit organization, support a just cause or simply provide useful information? The information you post will be available to a very small percentage of all the fans of your page.

In terms of business, the small and family business that was using Facebook pages as a substitute for a company website is now at a disadvantage. All efforts to recruit fans were in vain.

In addition, what happens to big business? CEO of Priceline travel company Darren Houston told Bloomberg that Facebook and Twitter are useless to his platform as advertising partners. In his words, Priceline spends $1.8 billion a year for online advertising.

"We have plenty of money for Facebook and Twitter. But we find nothing in them," said Houston. Advertising on social networks can be targeted based on user location and on what the user likes. Houston however says that this does not have a direct impact on bookings.

Such statements in which companies with huge advertising budgets publicly declare that the results are not good are a serious problem for Facebook and Twitter. Although both companies have an approved advertising business, there are still some doubts that their advertising platforms actually work. Every time someone appears and says in public that their advertisements do not work. General Motors did the same some time ago as well as the market research company Forrester.

Restricting the free sharing between companies and their potential customers can be called "business censorship".

Twitter, Twitter, tell me where your users are...

Infographics showing where users of various mobile platforms live has become extremely popular. Its authors used data from the mobile Twitter application to make it.

Twitter knows where you are and companies want access to these data. An increasing number of companies are seeking ways to learn more about the cities where Twitter users live. The problem with the use of our personal data is not new and remains constant when it comes to social networks. Researchers claim that less than 3% of Twitter users use the location function. However, users show where they were or share information about events taking place around their home.

Jalal Mahmud and the IBM research team have developed software that can “guess” the hometown of a Twitter user. It does this by reviewing the last 200 tweets as well as by analyzing the time at which a person posts statuses most frequently. The latter may indicate the time zone of the user location. The software accounts for things like sports teams and names of unique places.

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