Facebook's Business Model Built on 'Observation of People’s Behavior’ - Expert

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Facebook plans to launch a new dating app designed to compete with popular services like Tinder according to the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook has also unveiled a new “clear history” tool allowing users to delete data Facebook has collected from other sites and apps, this comes amid the fallout from a vast user data breach scandal.

Sputnik discussed the social media platform's new privacy feature and dating app with Troy Hunt, web security expert and maintainer of the haveibeenpwned.com website, which allows users to see if their accounts have been compromised in previous data breaches.

Sputnik: As an expert on things such as being able to tell if your account has been compromised in previous data breaches how do you take the announcements by Facebook to allow for users to sort of get rid of their cookies or their Facebook specific cookies, do you think that's a significant improvement? And will that be effective in keeping personal data safe?

Troy Hunt: It's certainly a step in the right direction giving people back control over the amount of information that Facebook holds over them and how it's used is a positive thing. It will be interesting as this actually comes into the platform to see how many people actually use it because if we also rely on people to take explicit action we know that a lot of people won't opt into that.

Sputnik: It's interesting that the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg cautioned against using it because it's going to ruin your Facebook experience, and I'm wondering will people use it, they like the fact that Facebook in many ways is very intuitive as far as the things that you see when you go onto Facebook, is that going to be a dealbreaker for people? Are they going to be willing to give up their data as long as they have this wonderful experience where they have handy and faithful Facebook dishing out what they like the most?

Troy Hunt: Well, of course, that intuitive nature of Facebook is that it has so much data about you it is able to put things in front of you that you would be more interested in. So Mark's point on having a somewhat of a —-- 1.46 to some extent that you may well see a lot of things that are less relevant to you, so there's truth to that, and the unfortunate reality is that the way they do that is by having so much information on you and sometimes they know things that you may not even thought you'd be interested in, and they can put them in front of you.

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Now in terms of whether people will opt into that, I think the challenge here is when people need to take explicit action to protect their privacy or their security they tend not to do it, there is usually a very low uptake of any sort of activity that requires an explicit opt-in by the user.

Sputnik: There is a media app that allows you to opt into what kind of information you want to see, it's called Flipboard, and they have probably hundreds of different topics that you can decide are of interest or not of interest, why don't they do an opt-in for what they show you?

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Troy Hunt: Flipboard is a good example, I use that all the time actually, and it's very useful for things like aggregating news, I find that very effective for that, but I guess with Facebook a lot of their business model is built on this implicit observation of people‘s behavior because the platform really is designed for people to spend time sharing things with other people and of course in sharing that Facebook has a lot of information about the connections, about the places that you've been and it draws these conclusions about what you're interested in based on behavior as opposed to based on conscious selection, now having said that, you do have some controls at the moment.

You can say look I'm not interested in seeing an ad like this, for example, or a post like that, so there is some control over there, but I think a lot of value propositions of Facebook is that you don't consciously opt into things, it just happens in the background.

Sputnik: What do you think from the point of view of sellers, of marketers, is that going to make Facebook less appealing to them?

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Troy Hunt: This really gets to the heart of the matter now because the value proposition for these marketers is that Facebook does have so much information on people, look, this is their entire business model, they've got this information and they can sell it, so the challenge that they're having to deal with at the moment is how do you, on one hand, try to keep your audience happy because ultimately they're the cash cow, you need the audience in order to have the activity which drives the marketers, so how do you keep that audience happy and on the platform, yet at the same time give the marketers the very information which you're trying to convince your audience that you don't need, it's a very difficult challenge for them.

Sputnik: I guess that's why they give you a dating site, what do you think about the new plans for the dating site? Is this going to be part of what's going to keep the audience happy and make them forget, because dating sites are immensely popular, and I'm surprised that they haven't introduced this earlier, it seems like there should've been a hook-up kind of app for ages?

Troy Hunt: You're right, when you think about it now it makes perfect sense because Facebook has so much information about us, very sort of nuanced, subliminal things that we may not even consciously think about ourselves, and if they're smart enough, the ability for them to match people together will be a lot better than what you would get from the likes of Tinder.

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So they have that capability, and the thing that is now freaking people out is — well, that's a lot of very sensitive information that an organization that is now going through this scandal is holding. I think it will probably be enormously popular because it has such a large incumbent audience already on the platform, and they should be able to do it better than anyone else as well.

The views and opinions expressed by the expert do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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