Time to turn Facebook's privacy pirating on its ear. While the tribe of Zuckerberg et al continues to believe "instant personalization" and "opting out" is the best policy, up comes a new upstart that wants to turn that business model inside out. Has social media made everyone's life an open book - or can we take back control and sell our stories on our own terms?
Not only, will Bynamite and its founders, Ian Wilkes and Ginsu Yoon outline your Ian Wilkes & Ginsu Yoonspecific options regarding your privacy, they are divining ways to reward you for giving it up. According to a New York Times report, Steve Lohr notes that users on Facebook and Google who 'like' and 'search' are basically allowing these preferences to generate billions of dollars a year in online advertising revenue.
In my previous post, titled, "Facebook's 'Open Graph' Targets Google Ad Dollars," I talked about how Facebook's enhancement of its Social Graph was a direct and bold attempt for Facebook to go toe-to-toe with the search giant. With all of Zuckerberg's talk about an Internet Utopia where 'transparency' and 'openess' are the guiding principles, what's really motivating the CEO and his social network is the desire to control an online 'Advertising Empire.' Not to be overshadowed, Google is launching yet another social network called "Google Me" on top of their previous failed attempts with Orkut and "Buzz."
How It Works
While still in Beta, and working out the refinements of its monetization model, the Bynamite Web site tag line is "See What They Know About You." Based on proprietary software, the site offers users a downloadable plug-in free on Mozilla and Chrome browsers. Once in place, their Web service monitors what ad networks and e-commerce sites are actually collecting - and then groups that data into categories likes "new and current events," "travel," "technology," "general health," and "shopping." Then in turn, the categories are weighted according to how often one visits certain sites or makes purchases with certain online merchants.
Users can then determine over time if their own personal data-mines are accurately detailing their preferences. If not, they can modify their profile by editing or deleting items altogether. The site also allows users that don't want to share their preferences to block ads with free tools like AdBlock and NoScript.
Coming from the virtual worlds of Second Life, where Yoon and Wilkes were former business and engineering managers, they predict that individuals will be able to user their 'social media' data mines as virtual currency - something they call a "consumer's preference wallet." On Second Life, users pay for digitial goods with real currency.
The premise that every individual's private data has value shifts the paradigm from the Facebook model of the network being in control to the user. While Zuckerberg and others would say that we will look back on this period of time, and wonder why we wouldn't share our data freely so we were only presented with content and ads that appealed to us - others like Bynamite believe that if you're giving something up, you should get something in return.
According to Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, he asserts: “What’s intriguing about Bynamite is its emphasis on privacy as revolving around choice and ownership of data, and ultimately a notion of an exchange of value.”
When we realize that every transaction on a Google search is a transaction and every time we hit a Facebook 'like' button its triggering a sale of our personal data, it is easy to understand what value the 'user' brings to the online table. Unfortunately many people do not think about, or are unaware of, the notion that these actions help determine the ads that end up appearing on Facebook and Google that garner each company billions in advertising revenue.
The paradox that results is that 'social media' and its progeny 'social networking' for all of its 'freedom,' 'openness' and 'transparency' - comes with a hefty pricetag. Every time we create a new profile, join a new network, web browse, post pictures, send tweets and update statuses - we are adding to our individual social media data mines - that over time become extremely valuable to targeted online advertising.
I think Bynamite is on the right track in attempting to protect our information from being used freely - or at least giving the user the option if he or she desires to give it up.
Whether it succeeds is a big question mark. Coming off our sensitivity to Facebook and Google "Buzz" invasion of privacy issues, for a new start-up to jump into the fray it will need to build trust first. And presently, we are doubtful of any "one" entity on the Internet gaining too much control and power. When they can assure us - that the users are in control and firmly seated in the driver's seat - is when they may begin to gain traction.