Privacy Issues Among Social Platforms

Arising Fears With TikTok

Fear and Anger… two of the most appealing feelings to people. Specifically, TikTok has evoked those two emotions out of its users over privacy issues. People are more apprehensive  of TikTok since information surfaced  that the app was sharing data with the Chinese government. Since the app used to be “Musical.ly”, which was based in Beijing, it still has ties to its parent company named ByteDance. A poll shared exclusively with Business Insider shows that 48% of Americans worried that TikTok would agree on a request from the Chinese Government for user data if asked. Around 35% agreed that TikTok was a national security threat and nearly half said they did not trust the platform to handle their personal data. Although the allegations became talked-about, TikTok had denied them  and said that they would not hand over data even if the Chinese government asked them to. TikTok got the most spotlight on the sharing of user data, but the big question not everyone considers is how much other social media platforms could be sharing user data.

The Algorithm

Wonder why users have different content and ads on their social media feed? It is because of the detailed data these platforms take from each of their users. TikTok can collect as many as 50 kinds of information from users 13 and older — including age, username, gender, and email address to details about a user’s mobile device, content of messages, and tracking data about your online activities. This does not only apply to Tiktok. Every time someone creates a new social media account, they provide personal information that can include their name, birthdate, geographic location, and personal interests. In addition, companies collect data on user behaviors: when, where, and how users interact with their platform. The code behind each platform’s algorithm uses AI to adjust to each individual user’s pulled data. 
 
Each platform’s algorithm has different factors in determining how they prioritize content for users. The overarching two factors for social media algorithms are engagement and time on the platform. Each platform dives deeper into those factors, creating more specific factors to what they feel gives users the best experience. Facebook’s news feed algorithm uses relevancy score, prioritizing friends, time spent on a post, and video engagement as specific factors. Twitter’s timeline algorithm uses a “while you were away” feature (makes user feel like they don’t have FOMO by showing past tweets the user may be interested in based off their engagement), “show me the best tweet first” feature (recent tweets it thinks the user will find most interesting at the top of their timeline based on accounts they interact with most, Tweets they engage with, etc), and “best tweets” feature (hidden feature but users are able to opt out). Instagram’s feed algorithm uses interest, frequency, following, recency, relationship, and usage as specific factors. Each platform is similar but unique in different ways.

How The Algorithm Affects Marketing Now

Paid social media traffic is critical for many businesses. Since most social media platforms use algorithms, it can play to both digital marketers advantage or disadvantage. Algorithms typically have a ”recommended” or “for you” section on the platform, where people get looped into. People are shown things that appeal most to them. Then, they fall into rabbit holes that reinforce their thoughts and ideas, and they connect with like-minded people. This starts to create homogenous communities online almost like consumer personas. Each community shares common interests and characteristics, but the people in those communities differ. People may not know what kind of community they are in since the algorithm decides what is of value to the user for them so no matter what, each person in different online homogeneous communities will still have content that will differ from each other.

Social media platforms gather personal information about a user. Because of this, users become the product being sold. In this case, the personal information being stored or tracked are huge assets to advertising, marketing, and analytics vendors. This helps them understand different audiences and make insights for different goals. Since platforms have access to user information, their algorithm allows them to be able to target what it thinks a user would like to see more of, which results in users falling into the addiction to scroll or tap through social media for long periods of time. This is great from a marketing perspective to have the right audience to engage with ads, but socially it causes these homogeneous communities to only see information they believe in, whether it is right or wrong. People wanting to manipulate the information market have utilized social bots. Social bots will flood the network to create the popularity around fake news, conspiracy theory, trolling, etc., tricking both platform algorithms and individuals’ cognitive biases. 

The manipulated information becomes more widespread because of increased engagement. In an experiment using a news literacy app called “Fakey”, players get points for sharing or liking news from reliable sources and for flagging articles of low-credibility for fact-checking. From the experiment, the researchers found that high levels of social engagement result in lower fact checking and higher liking/sharing (especially for low-credibility content), and people are more vulnerable to low-credibility content that shows high levels of social engagement. This experiment proves the significance of the bandwagon effect and simple rules. As a post or ad receives more engagement,  it will encounter increased  exposure on targeted users’ platforms. This can lead to the spread of misinformation created by low-credibility sources or social bots.

How The Algorithm Will Affect Marketing In The Future

As news about how much user data social media platforms track emerged, people became  worried and fearful. Social media platforms are now starting to reduce the reliance on user data for content shown. For example, Google plans to disable tracking technology,  Facebook has hundreds of engineers working on a new method of showing ads without relying on users’ personal data, and Apple introduced a pop-up window asking people for permission to be tracked by different apps. 

Since personal information is becoming less and less of a tool that digital marketers can utilize due to a privacy-conscious internet, marketers have to find another way to target consumers. Two ways suggested are charging subscription fees or turning to large tech platforms to supply non-personal user data. For example, if a business relies on Facebook ads to promote their products, a user can click on an ad for a different type of product and purchase it. . Facebook can then share that pattern with advertisers. This is a less intrusive method than relying on personal user data. Having a privacy-conscious internet space limits how relevant an ad may be to a consumer, which can hurt a business relying on digital ads. For now, companies like Google are trying to find a happy medium for what user data can be shared and what data should be private in order for businesses to be able to target the right consumers.

How much privacy is too little or too much?

The opposing viewpoints on user privacy include completely blocking tracking technology, having some tracking technology with the user’s permission, or still using some user data. Apple wants to give their customers, who pay a premium for its iPhones, the option to block tracking completely. This turns into an ethical issue of turning privacy into a privilege. Google said it was working on an approach to protect people’s data, while also allowing advertisers to continue targeting users with ads. However, they will not block trackers on Chrome until 2023. Google has the intention of protecting data, but the company is putting its revenue over the concerns and safety of users. Facebook is also developing ways to target people with ads by using insights gathered on their devices but not allowing personal data to be shared with third parties. However,  the brand has recently been outed by a whistleblower for misinformation, hate speech, and other threats and was caught in the middle of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Because of this, users could be hesitant to trust Facebook since the term “insight” is vague, and the process includes retrieving these insights from their devices.

The Impact

User data is very valuable in the digital marketing world. Users e are able to see personalized ads and content tailored to their interests because of the use of algorithms. This makes it easier for marketers to target the right audience. Most tech companies are trying to find a middle-ground for what user data can be used or shared and what user data stays private. With the selling and storing of personal user information, it raises fear and concern for users. Because of this, information privacy is now a significant demand. With a heightened inability for marketers and businesses to use personal user information due to the fear and concerns of users, these entities are facing difficulties in ensuring  that their content is  being delivered to the right users. It all comes down to the two feelings, fear and anger, that make this topic widely known.

Written by Shayla Mortel

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