I’ve been thinking about the ongoing Facebook privacy kerfuffle and have concluded that it comes down to what I term “antagonistic aspirations.” Facebook, like many social media sites, wants to be a place where members share unabashedly — you feel safe, connected, and free to be yourself. They also want to be the ultimate data mine — able to help advertisers target their ads more precisely than anyone else. Both of these aims are viable and good, but in some aspects they are also oppositional.
It’s as if, sorry to be crude, one has a plot of land and decides to open a nudist colony on one half and a photography school on the other. Participants on one side are encouraged to show it all and those on the other side want to focus precisely and capture a snapshot. Some of the participants will be fine with this arrangement, but others…
Antagonistic aspirations are more than the typical tensions that any business faces — cost vs. quality is one that comes readily to mind — because they represent what a company hopes to become. I believe that Facebook truly wants to be both (although I perceive them leaning toward the money — being the data mine — and that has earned them the wrath of some of their users). The recent U.S. health care reform efforts are another that comes to mind: legislators tried to craft a bill that maximized both individual choice and equity. Yet one of the keys to achieving equity — access to affordable health insurance for as many people as possible — meant limiting individual choice by requiring everyone to purchase insurance. One could argue that Goldman Sach’s aspirations in the investment banking and trading businesses also fit the bill.
Antagonistic aspirations are something with which every organization that wants to leverage user-supplied data to connect both with customers and a third party selling to those customers will have to wrestle: explaining which data will be used for what purposes and articulating the benefits of sharing that data are critical. In Facebook’s case, I don’t think that users yet see the benefits of the advertising and so resent their data being used. Nor do they fully understand what data is being shared with which parties. I, for one, find it downright creepy when an age-specific ad for insurance pops up.
Is your business faced with antagonistic aspirations? How do you think that the privacy vs. ad-driven business model will be resolved?