The Dark Side of Social Media Data.

I was sitting in my living room watching Top Gear, my daughter playing in the garden with our dog and a hose, when the call came…’There’s been an accident. Your wife has been cut out of the car and airlifted to hospital.’

It’s a strange thing that happens in these situations…on the outside I had to remain calm so as not to panic our daughter, whilst on the inside my brain was stuck on a loop; ‘Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…’

I arranged for some friends to look after our daughter and  headed to the hospital as soon as I could. Seeing my wife strapped up on stretcher, her head secured with pads to prevent movement…it’s one of those life moments that becomes tattooed in your memory.

Needless to say, this was a tremendously difficult time – I was having to ferry back and forth from the hospital, which was 2 ½ hours away. Trying to assure my little girl that everything was ok whilst she stayed with friends. Thankfully Flint Hosts, my employers, were fantastic and gave me all the time off I needed to deal with the situation. I had friends and family praying for and supporting us throughout the whole ordeal.

Those friends and family were amazing – and thanks to the wonders of social media, I was able to keep everyone across the world appraised of any developments and encourage prayer and well-wishes from everyone who was concerned.

But it was with that amazing positive came one of the worst negatives of the whole experience…

It was on the second day that I was making the long drive to the hospital that the first call came: ‘Hello, I’m calling from Insensitive Jerk Legal Firm. I understand your wife has been involved in an accident. Are you considering suing for damages?’

The caller had no idea how, or even who, my wife was. They didn’t even know if she’d survived the accident. Less than 24 hours had passed since the crash and the vultures were already circling.

I dare say my caller learned a few new adjectives in that conversation, as I described very openly how I felt about his call, his business, life choices, and mother.

The reason I received his, and several other calls of the same nature, was that I had shared on Facebook a private detail of my life so that friends and family could keep informed. This information is then passed onto marketers who can target relevant advertising.

I want to make it clear that I’m not totally opposed to informed marketing from social media, it is a useful tool for both marketers and consumers alike. I’d much rather that ads for products that actually interest me are presented – goodness knows I never want to have to hear about a Spice Girls reunion or Kim Kardashian’s latest marriage/divorce/baby/handbag – but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

Why does everything we share for our friends have to be shared? Surely access to my ‘likes’ and so on is enough. Accessing my life as it happens is just wrong – especially as it is then used by the likes of Ambulance Chasers make a bad situation worse.

I read on Tom Fishburn’s fantastic site the following stats:

In a recent Communispace study (PDF), 86% of consumers would click a “Do Not Track” button if one existed and 30% would pay a 5% premium for a guarantee that their personal data would not be captured.

Yet 52% of consumers would share their personal data with marketers for discounts, with younger consumers more comfortable sharing personal data. A majority of Millennials and Gen X-ers would

I think when you use a format like social media you have to accept some level of compromise. These are (for the most part) free services, and they remain free because they derive profits from the marketing position they hold. But regulation is needed to control the level of access available, and allow consumers control over not just who sees a post (which most allow you to control), but how that information is then used – having ads for movies similar to those I have liked is one thing; having funeral directors call because a loved one passed away a day ago is another completely.

What do you think? Is the corrosion of privacy an acceptable casualty of a Social Media-centric world, or do the operators of these sites need more accountability for how our data is used?


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