Big Data and Social Media: Selling U 1 Click @ A Time

I understand that my social media interactions are being bought and sold like T-shirts at a rock concert. After all; I used to sell digital media for a living.

But after reading a CNET article reporting that privacy experts are planning to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over a new Facebook data sharing deal, and a CNN article suggesting that Microsoft should offer its products for “free” like Google; I think there’s good reason to feel that as a consumer; I’m being more than a little exploited, and that I should take some kind of action.

The question is; what can any of us do to protect any shred of personal choice and privacy in the face of the unrelenting, fast-moving Juggernaut of ad-driven internet commerce?

Right now, the answer is “not much”, unless we are willing stop or at least limit our use of social media  applications such as Facebook, and let go of the idea that there is anything “free”on the internet.

In the CNN post “Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: How To Fix Microsoft”; it was suggested that Microsoft stop selling its software, and start offering it “for free” like Google.


First of all, Microsoft’s profits come in large part from the sale of licensed software. They would be insane to start offering it all for free.

In addition, Google products are not free. Every single thing you do with Google is tracked, recorded, and sold to advertisers. You are paying for it by incrementally and continuously allowing them to invade your privacy.

At least I know that when I create a document in the Microsoft Word program that I paid for; the contents of my document are not going to be scanned and shared with advertisers. You can’t say the same thing about Google Docs. There are some things worth paying for with actual cash, and I think retaining control over the contents of the documents I create is one of them.

When it comes to new privacy issues regarding Facebook; here’s my suggestion. Read the book I reviewed recently for USA Today called “Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us.

Its author, Andrew Keen, contends; “Data is the new oil, and the consumer has become the product. We need protection against these new data barons that are undermining our privacy… and I think in many ways, undermining what it is to be human”.

Find out more by reading my USA Today book review, and by following this link to Andrew Keen’s website.

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Is Social Media Really B.S.?

In the book”Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Divides, Diminishes, and Disorients Us“, author and talk show host Andrew Keen explores the dark side of social media. (Click here for my review of the book in USA Today)

So, it was pretty interesting to watch him interview B.J. Mendelson on, about Mendelson’s new book; “Social Media Is Bullshit“.

You’d figure since both authors share a distrust for social media, as well as the same publisher, (St. Martin’s Press); they might see things the same way.

But they don’t.

While Keen is concerned about issues like cell phone tracking and privacy, Mendelson’s gripe, it seems, is all about the Benjamins. He complains that even with 770,000 Twitter followers, he hasn’t made enough money.

“We live in a world where it’s far easier to make money telling people how to get rich using the internet than it is to actually get rich using it,” he says. “All the hype” about the effectiveness of social media marketing is BS even if you have a lot of followers; he contends, unless you’re already famous.

That reminded me of a story Kenny Loggins told when he played a private concert for us at DMX Music in Seattle, back in 2003.

Loggins, who achieved worldwide fame with hits like “House at Pooh Corner” and “Celebrate Me Home”, observed that independent musicians don’t have it made just because they can sell direct to their fans over the internet. In fact, he said, it was only musicians like himself who already had a global fan base who could make decent money selling their own music online.

That’s because their former record labels had already spent millions to market their music through all kinds of different channels; such as newspapers, billboards, radio, TV, concert venues, and record stores. In addition, the artists themselves had established an enduring connection with their fans through their recorded music and live performances.

It’s hard for a anyone to make decent money selling ads on their own social network. 770,000 Twitter followers may sound like a lot, but based on my experience selling digital advertising; I can tell you it’s not that much. If he had 7 million followers, or 770 million followers, and he was doing something that was engaging enough for them to want to continually interact with him; now we’re talking revenue opportunity.

Also, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have unless they choose to interact with you long enough and often enough to see or hear the ads you want to serve them. And, they’re not going to do that, unless they have some compelling reason to do so.

Mendelson admits that he got the vast majority of his Twitter followers simply because he had been involved with a breast cancer charity, and that he was somehow able add all of their followers to his own (I’m a little hazy on how he was able to do that; but he did).

So, if they really weren’t his followers to begin with; why would they have any incentive to interact with him on Twitter now?

He needs to find new followers who have a personal reason to want to connect and interact with him. Writing a book is a step in the right direction.

It not only gives him the opportunity to sell something more than just advertising impressions on his social network; it also gives him the opportunity to build a fan base of readers.

If that fan base also includes people who meet him in person at book signings, speaking engagements, and other events, they’re way more likely to want to interact with him on social media.

So, is social media BS?

No. Having unrealistic expectations about what it can do for you–that’s BS.

Click on the links below for more information.

Andrew Keen’s Book:

Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Divides, Diminishes, and Disorients Us

My review in USA Today: “Digital Vertigo” a Hitchcockian Tale of Web Angst

Tech Crunch Interview: Keen On…B.J. Mendelson, Social Media is Bullshit

Social Media is Bullshit

The Dark Side of Social Media: “Digital Vertigo” (USA Today Book Review)

Do you share even the most intimate details of your life online?

Find out why that’s not such a great idea, in Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us.

I interviewed the author and reviewed the book for USA Today. Here is a link: Review: Digital Vertigo A Hitchcockian Tale of Web Angst

Online Privacy: The Great Debate

Can consumer privacy can be protected online without new legislation?

That was the topic of debate Wednesday afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

On the side of increased legislation were Andrew Keen, the author of a new book called “Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us“, and  Marc Rotenberg, President Of The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Arguing against that position, were Andrew Thierer, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, and Berin Szoka, President TechFreedom.

Keen contends that consumers really have no choice other than to use “free” online applications provided by companies that make their money by aggregating consumer data and selling it to advertisers. But, he says, consumers are paying for those so-called free services by relinquishing control of their private information.

“Data is the new oil”, Keen says, “and the consumer has become the product.”  He contends that “We need government protection against the infinite speed of technology, and technology companies, and the way in which they’re turning consumers into products. We need protection against these new data barons that are undermining our privacy, flattening publicness [sic] and privacy, and I think in many ways, undermining what it is to be human”.

Rotenberg agrees. “We are undergoing a fundamental change in how personal information is collected and used not only in the US economy, but in the information economy around the world. This change is so fundamental and so pervasive that… and I think people here would all acknowledge it that… we need to find some new solutions. ”

He also noted that the government’s role in protecting privacy can be traced all the way back to founding father,  Ben Franklin, who was instrumental in creating the U.S. Postal Service. “Franklin’s almost immediate insight about the value of this new service was that it had to afford privacy and confidentiality, otherwise people would not trust it.”

While Thierer agreed that consumer privacy is currently at risk on the Internet, he contends “We should not respond to those risks with top-down or heavy-handed approaches.”

Instead, he suggests;  “You use literacy, you use empowerment–and yes–sometimes use selective and targeted enforcement to address real legitimate harms. But that is the bottom up approach to dealing with technological risk that societies face. It’s the more constructive one, because it allows innovation and progress to happen, without the heavy hand of top-down Internet governance coming in and crushing all that we love about the information age.”

Szoka argued that the US Federal Trade Commission, while not perfect, already has privacy regulations in place that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices.

“I’m not saying the government has no role here, the question is what that role is… to think that role has to be one of legislation is a fundamental mistake.”

To find out more about this topic, check out the following links:

Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)