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Maybe Facebook’s Data Problem Is Your Data Problem (Thinks Out Loud Episode 203)

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Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem (Thinks Out Loud Episode 203)

Maybe Facebook’s Data Problem Is Your Data Problem (Thinks Out Loud Episode 203) – Headlines and Show Notes

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Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem

Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem: Introduction

Well hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter, today is Wednesday, September 20, 2017 and this is episode 203 of the big show. Thank you again for tuning in, I really do appreciate it and I think we’ve got a terrific show for you this week.

Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem: Situation Analysis

So, a couple week’s ago, I made a reasoned, rational argument for why Facebook’s data problem is their problem, not yours. I set up my thesis, I built some supporting arguments, and I think, I nailed it. Brilliantly. Well done me, right?

Well, wait for it.

Because later that same day, the day I posted that episode, news broke that alleges Facebook sold ads to Russians looking to influence the US presidential election.

Um… whoops.

That same day, ProPublica proved that you could target Facebook ads specifically to anti-Semites using some horrific language on the site.

Um… Bigger whoops.

And, then, to add insult to injury, two days later, the Equifax news hit.

Which is just like “whoops” times infinity.

Now, I’ve mentioned a few times that data represents the crown jewels for your business. Right? Content is king, customer experience is queen, and data is the crown jewels. And if you’re somebody like Facebook or Equifax (or for that matter, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple), that’s putting it mildly. These folks live for data. These are massive companies, with massive influence in our lives, who choose the news we read, the ads we see, our ability to get credit and buy things and a whole host of other behaviors we engage in and rely upon every single day. That’s not just the crown jewels. That’s the whole bloody treasury, palace, and kingdom.

And while I’m leery of excessive regulation, a number of influential thinkers all across the political spectrum have begun to ask, rightly, whether these folks have too much power in our lives — and more importantly, whether they’ve demonstrated the ability to wield that power wisely.

The biggest threat facing Facebook and Google and Equifax and all the rest right now isn’t from their traditional competitors. And it’s not from a stereotypical couple of brilliant kids in a garage. Their problem, their biggest threat, is much bigger than that.

Because the real threat that Facebook and Google face is from consumers turning on them, losing faith in their ability to keep our data safe, and driving regulators to, well, regulate. Equifax underscores these dangers. Big. Time. And if customers begin to see the tech giants in a similar light, watch out.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook had to give testimony to special investigator Robert Mueller. The Atlantic Magazine published a series of articles detailing how and why Facebook should be regulated. Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay and is nobody’s idea of a luddite, has been ranting on Twitter for the last several weeks about why Facebook should be regulated.

And it’s not just Facebook. Google faces increasing scrutiny in Europe for alleged anticompetitive practices. The New York Times in an article this past April asked, “Is It Time to Break Up Google?” Fortune Magazine suggested in July that Google and Facebook may need antitrust regulation.

And don’t get me started on Equifax. In this specific case, I agree they deserve almost anything that’s coming to them. But I don’t take pleasure in any of this. Nor should you.

Yes, there are editorials online, in newspapers, and in magazines. Yes, there will be hearings in Congress. And, yes, there will be consequences, at least in terms of additional regulation. The industry has done a terrible job taking care of the crown jewels. Others are getting set to step in to say how it should be done.

But that’s why you can’t take pleasure in this. Because at that point Facebook’s data problem might be your problem. Because those regulations might fall squarely on your shoulders too. Talk to anyone who’s beginning to deal with regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe (better known as GDPR) and they’ll tell you what I’m talking about. It’s an onerous, complex process. And that’s before any of this happened.

This is a big, honkin’ deal, one you’ll likely have to deal with too.

Now, let’s be fair, this is larger than a marketing problem. But that doesn’t mean marketing shouldn’t care about it. We collect an extraordinary amount of data about our customers. And I have and will argue in the future that we should. But only if we’re:

  1. Clear in our intentions for data use and retention.
  2. Upfront with our customers about how we’re going to use that data.
  3. Prepared to let them opt-out if they don’t want us to use that data that way, and
  4. Ready to protect that data from the thieves and hackers, amateur and professional, who are looking to get their hands on that same data, whether for profit or for the lulz.

If you can’t say, “Yes, I’m ready” to each of those four items, it’s probably worth asking yourself whether you ought to be collecting that data in the first place. In the immortal words of Ian Malcolm in the movie Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.” Don’t be that guy.

Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem: Antitrust

Now, before you say, “This couldn’t really happen, though,” remember that it already has. There was no antitrust regulation in the US until the late 19th century. But once Senator Sherman declared "If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life,” we ended up with the Sherman Act of 1890.

And just as Sherman thought it was a bad ides to have a king over “the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life,” some other enterprising politician could easily declare, “If our personal and private data about our lives and intentions truly represents the crown jewels, how can we entrust those jewels to any party unwilling to defend those jewels as if the very kingdom depends upon them?”

OK, so I’m not the orator John Sherman was. But you get the point.

Maybe Facebook's Data Problem Is Your Data Problem Summary

Equifax has shown just how dangerous it is to leave the crown jewels in the wrong hands. Facebook and Google have shown exactly how much the data they possess affects our day-to-day lives. And regulators have shown their willingness to act, at least when the public demands it.

You need to get ahead of the situation. You need to work with your IT team and your vendors to ensure that, just like I said before, you’re:

  1. Clear in your intentions for data use and retention. Why are you gathering that data? For what purpose?
  2. You need to be upfront with your customers about how we’re going to use that data. How’s it going to be stored? What’s it going to be used for? And ensure that they’re safe and secure
  3. Prepared to let your customers opt-out if they choose, and
  4. That you’re ready to protect that data from the folks who want to get their hands on those crown jewels for their own purposes.

Because, it’s a pretty safe bet that before too long, Facebook’s data problem — and Google’s data problem and Equifax’s data problem — are gonna turn out to be your data problem too.


Now looking at the clock on the wall we are out of time for this week. I do want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all episodes by going to Tim Again that's Tim Just look for episode 203. And while you're there you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find so you get us delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also subscribe in iTunes or the Google Play Music store or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or plain old Thinks Out Loud, we should show up for any of those. And if you'd be willing to provide a rating on iTunes, the Google Play Store, or Stitcher Radio while you're there, I would really appreciate it. You can also contact me by going to, on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter, or via email by emailing again that's With that I want to say thanks again for tuning in, I really do appreciate it. I hope you have a fantastic weekend, a great week ahead, and I will look forward to talking with you back here on Thinks Out Loud again next week. Until then take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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