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Facebook’s data collection, France-Antilles revisit and Digital Media makes money, at last!
Back from a tiring transatlantic trip, I delve in to how Facebook collects data, an update in the ongoing newspaper media failings and a surprise profit-making store related to digital media
I got back late Sunday night from a trip to London to take in the wonderfully tasty Curry Houses that are everywhere there, but most importantly, to participate in the Microsoft Ignite The Tour Conference. I’m preparing a show report for the newsletter, but I haven’t finished it yet. Meanwhile, I thought you might be interested in the data practices of Facebook and an update on what’s happening to the newspaper industry in the Caribbean.
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What data Facebook collects and how they use it
It won't come as much of a surprise that Facebook tracks you on its platform—that's why it can resurface your birthday photos from five years ago—but you might not yet realize the scope and the depth of its tracking all across the internet.
Of course, if you signed up and actively use Facebook, it will come as no surprise that the mass surveillance capitalism machine collects information about you. What most don’t realise however, is that Facebook collects data on anyone on the Internet and creates what we call “shadow profiles”.
Shadow Profiles are like vaccinations rates. Let me explain.
With the invention of vaccines, we quickly understood that a 100% vaccination rate in the target population was not necessary to provide community immunity. In fact, a percentage of something like 95% for measles (it is not the same percentage for each disease) offers sufficient protection for all persons purely from the statistics that show an unvaccinated person is unlikely to be exposed to a porter of the virus. Thus the term “herd immunity” was coined.
R being the reproduction number and S, the proportion of the population susceptible to infection.
Facebook Profiles, too, work like this. Facebook wishes a maximum of the populate to have a real profile, for it to extrapolate all the non-users of its services and create profiles of these people to monetise them, in the same way, signed up users are.
Facebook is not quite there yet, but they are putting a lot of effort to get there. The purchase of Instagram, WhatsApp and other “initiatives”, have one, and only one goal. More users with profiles on the grand database of personal information, and by extraction, more people in the non-users database.
Wired’s article goes on to explain what data is collected and how you can limit the collection of data — limit, not eliminate. It’s the deal for signing up with the..., er, Facebook — to prevent hyper-targeted advertising and Facebook knowing your most private information. However, as I inferred earlier, much of what Facebook collects has nothing to do with Facebook directly or at least is not the collection of data from sites owned and operated by them.
Facebook has developed and extended involved and deep relations with a multitude of marketing and ad agencies, essentially paying them to give up your data for their monetisation purposes. True to form, Facebook offers a tool called “Off-Facebook Activity” that dissociates the collected data from what you do on the site or in the app.
Note, they do not stop collecting data, that only unlink it from activity.
Note also, that using the technique I mentioned above, despite not having a Facebook account, your data is still collected by systems like the Facebook Pixel. Its egregious activities don’t stop there either. Even if you have disabled location tracking in the mobile app, Facebook still notes your approximate location by using IP addresses, data which is allegedly stored in the profile for later use.
One other technique used by the likes of Facebook and Google is the dissemination of Polls and Surveys that ask basic questions such as your Star Wars Age. Unwitting users fill in the information in online surveys only for that personal data to be harvested and used, yes, for advertising.
I want to clarify a myth that persists concerning what Facebook does with the data (your data) it collects; Facebook does not sell the data. It’s more nuanced than that. What Facebook does is harvest as much information as possible and then make that data available to hyper-target advertising. What that means is that the back-end data stays with Facebook, but users of Facebook advertising systems can see the number of people that would receive an ad based on the attributes requested. Demographic information, of course, but also purchasing habits, interests (when you fill in what you like you’re feeding this table in the database) and a whole host of other information.
Unlike my experience in many companies around the Caribbean;
Although there is some dispute in the reality of the phrase, with some reasoning that it’s not, the phrase holds true for many businesses looking towards digital transformation. Businesses produce data all the time, but it is mostly lost, stored but not accessed or downright under-exploited. We are data-rich but analysis-poor, and it’s to our detriment.
Facebook is possibly one of the best organisations that are using and monetising data, excepting perhaps, Google. It’s interesting that they use it for such shady purposes sometimes.
If you think about it, their resource is the data they collect — data being the new oil. If Facebook sold that data and thus gave up on the possibility of reselling it to the same party again, it would very quickly be left with no resources to market. The fact that advertisers come back time and time again to punt another product, matching it to their target audience using the matching tools of Facebook is entirely the reason Facebook makes $22.1B from a revenue of $55.8B according to CNN Money.
Is Emmanuel Macron about to save the newspapers in the French West Indies?
On the 2nd of August a tender was issued to find a buyer for the failing media business, and its close date is in less than two weeks. Currently there are no offers on the table and there may not be any serious long-term buyers either. For what its worth, I think they’ll find a buyer, but it’ll be a short-term, utterly-ignorant-of-the-reality-in-the-digital-world benefactor that will continue to (try to) sell what is essentially free information printed on dead trees.
Remember, France-Antilles, and other newspaper publishers around the Caribbean have been slow and downright ignorant of the reality of the digital world for a long time.
Three major factors have led to the current situation; ads have become easy and cheap to set up using the online platforms — with feedback obtained from the online platforms out-manoeuvring what a static mass-market ads could ever achieve —, the distribution of bits rather than atoms became essentially free and the targeting and the quality of information naturally decreases with abundance.
Easier, better and cheaper will always win out over difficult, inferior and expensive. The ad market for newspapers was completely disrupted and was only noticed by the industry when it was too late.
Emmanuel Macron has hinted at the possibility to help the press in the overseas territories with aid for distribution or specific political measures.
It is a sad state of affairs that a government feels the need to intervene to prop up a failing business model, notwithstanding the risk of being accused of government bias in future articles; Quid Pro Quo? Now let me make it very clear, I am not suggesting that there is or will be any such agreement, not for an instant! But it leaves one open to accusations, and in a world where accusations are multiplied and legitimised by social media at the speed of light, both the newspapers and the government need to be careful.
Currently, in an equivalent of Chapter 10, France-Antilles should know its fate on the 30th of January, although this too is not sure, being that previous decision deadlines were extended. Not only that, but the proposition that is likely to succeed is none other than the same group that spectacularly failed the newspaper with its lack of vision, foresight and digital transformation.
It has secured pledges of 3M€ from the state, 3M€ from investors and is currently looking for another million or so to get their proposal off the ground — which incidentally, cuts staff from 236 to 125. They’re putting a plaster on a broken leg, and in the plans’ current guise and without radical change, it is doomed to fail, and I’ll be writing about it in a couple of years, if not sooner.
Digital publishing is profitable now!
Digital publishing is doing something it hasn't done en masse since the dawn of the Internet: make money.
Perhaps this falls at just the right time for France-Antilles and the rest of the industry in the Caribbean.
According to Axios several measures relating to copyright, new mediums becoming more popular (Podcasts, I’m looking at you) and monetisable are contributing to the inflow of cash to digital media companies. But it is not just that, privacy or at least visibility and control over what companies can do with the data coupled with the fact that these market places are murky and inscrutable for businesses to properly asses advertising costs, has provoked a drop in their use and the favouring of using direct-to-customer advertising from the digital media companies.
Copyright rules have cut off at the tap the wholesale “piracy” but the big tech giants republishing works from online sites like the Times, Guardian, etc., and funnelled that money to the media companies, contributing to their 1st-time profits in the digital media space. The war is not over yet, and we’ll have to watch to see what happens in the future, but for now, it is an encouraging sign.
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