Are You Public or Private on Social Media?

An essay on digital privacy within advertising using customer data via data-mining.


In a world where apps and services like Snapchat and WhatsApp help people communicate with one another via text or media, the concern for privacy arises. Privacy has always been an interest of the general public and defines what services we like or dislike. Some state that advertising has struck privacy at its core due to the misuse of user data within companies like Facebook or Google. In most cases people misunderstand the reach of advertising with a company’s knowledge of privacy or the differences between the two. In my opinion, it is ethical and logical for companies like Facebook or Twitter to use customer data via data-mining to make the experience better for the customer.
    Twitter to most people is a news and micro-blogging social network. It’s also a business that created something that few people think about: the hashtag “#”. Twitter started using the “Hashtag”(#) to use nouns or adjectives to help gather information for users or companies to compile into useful information. This is where data-mining comes into play. The term “data-mining” refers to the process of analyzing large databases to learn new information. In a sense, both data-mining and the hashtag coincide with each other. The hashtag started helping brands understand peoples’ likes/dislikes, demographic information and statistical information that were vital for the brands to grow. It also started helping the everyday layman to understand his or her standing in media. While the hashtag usually goes unnoticed, the concerns for privacy and advertising have risen in a way that startles many citizens.
    While privacy concerns are the central thought of anyone on social media, the potential problems or cautionary concerns multiply. Instagram, a photo-sharing social network, released its latest New Terms of Service disclosure. Jenna Wortham, from The New York Times, stated that: “A section of the new terms of service, titled ‘Rights,’ notes that Instagram will also be able to use your photographs and identity in advertisements.” This means that Instagram has full consent to use your photos in any way they choose. Even though this sounds disconcerting, Instagram is not at fault because of their establishment as a private company. While Instagram opens up to new phases of advertising, Google has found new areas of focus for advertising within an app called Allo. As Nathan Olivarez-Giles from The New York Times states, “Google analyzes unencrypted chats to perform a service, such as suggest automatic replies or recommend restaurants and movies.” The app is initially like any other messenger client except it can learn from your chat history that enables its algorithms to determine smart replies or recommend various types of services. Google’s use on data-mining through this means of advertising is done so to help the company better understand the user and implement new features. Google states that they are giving the user more “transparency” with his or her data (Olivarez-Giles).
    This is where most citizens confuse or misunderstand how companies use data-mining. People get privacy and security mixed up with data-mining for advertising which often puts the company in a bad position with the public for misusing user data. Customers want the best experience from the services and apps they use everyday or else the services and apps are worthless or useless. The irony is that customers don’t want to give up privacy in order for those certain features to be made. Apps like WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook, have had the concern for user privacy in their DNA. Chat history encryption is of the utmost priority. Since its acquisition with Facebook, WhatsApp has changed major details of its terms of service and privacy policy that “will allow coordination with Facebook to analyze how people use its service, better fight spam and make friend suggestions” (Seetharaman). Even though WhatsApp’s privacy agreements have changed, the core initiative of the company is to better fight spam and make friend suggestions. Seetharaman further states, “WhatsApp could be used by banks to notify customers of fraudulent transactions or airlines to alert travelers about delayed flights.” These features will be used to create better customer experiences with the service. Even while WhatsApp is collecting data, they use this in a constructive manner so that users have more options available. Instagram is able to use user data for advertisement ads because of the consent from user agreements. Both Instagram and WhatsApp gather their data in different ways but have the same conclusion: for the customer’s experience even though it might be inconsistent with public norms on how they attain user data.
    The main question is how companies are using user data that companies try to collect whether their intentions are to further the company or mishandle the data. As the internet gets surrounded by advertisements via companies and services, the future of privacy will always be at risk. In a world where citizens want the greatest and best technologies to choose from, the scope of advertising will be greatly challenged. It all boils down to what the customer desires, whether they want features or security—they always have a choice.