Is Facebook Violating Your Privacy?

You might be wondering about the uproar over Facebook and their “graphical search” capability and the impact on privacy issues. In reading The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, I have been thinking about the next most likely innovation in search and social media integration. Graphical search, which is a topic I know next to nothing about and I plan on researching, should make it possible for software to know people well enough to pair them to opportunity with minimal risk of negative consequence. This is not just a social (think the fictitious BRB app in Amazon’s sitcom Betas) or marketing (I think we all know ads are being pushed to us based on our internet footprints) phenomenon. At the mega-giant tech company where I work, we are searching daily both internally and externally for people with the talents, ability, experience and motivation to take on specific critical tasks. The current process is slow, inaccurate and not highly repeatable. Just think about some of the decision making processes that could be completely replaced by software and the right sets of data.

Where Graphical Search, Social and Data Might Intersect with Ideas

1. The process of screening and interviewing job candidates.

2. Making assignments at work.

3. Making career choices such as deciding to quit your job for another job or start a business.

4. Planning for the future and retirement.

5. Choosing where to live both while you are working and when you retire and other major life choices.

6. Decisions regarding major purchases.

Clearly not an exhaustive list but enough to get you started on making your own. I’m thinking when not if and sign me up. But what about privacy and concerns about whether or not being “out there” on the internet is making it easy for criminals to target you? These are real issues and there is a lot to be said for what is going to happen about cyber crime, most notably that police officers are evolving from cops to knowledge workers. Physical crime is decreasing in developed societies, so all those police officers will have a new job on the internet.

Right now at any large company there are hundreds or maybe thousands of job postings on their internal and external job site. If a company really knew it’s employees well, say through the use of internal and external social media, the company could use software to efficiently reallocate resources to needs. Here’s how it might work.

Using Graphical Search, Social and Data to Efficiently Reallocate Resources

1. Company A has an internal collaboration tool that employees use inside the firewall to post information about themselves and what they are working on. The company encourages the use of the tool and has few barriers about what employees may discuss, consistent with the companies existing code of conduct and ethics.

2. Company A is also interested in their employees outside of work and get’s to know them with software to build a profile of their interests and what they are doing when they are not at work.

3. Company A can now consider what opportunities exist in the company and compare this to what they know about their employees from their internal and external interactions, interests and activities.

4. Company A’s software can now develop potential matchs for assignments and provide additional information about this potential assignment including:

  • Employees likely interest level

  • Probability of success in the role

  • Actual willingness to relocate.

  • Salary at which each employee would happily accept.

  • Training or experience gaps.

5. Company A uses the software to automatically contact potential internal candidates and screens them based on actual interest level. It does this by pushing a web page to them describing the opportunity, pros, cons, locations, travel, salary range and then tracks their responses both to questions and how they interact with the page. What do they click on first? What do they spend the most or least time looking at? What types of questions did they have?

6. The employee is encouraged to share this automated interaction on their internal collaboration environment by commenting or reposting the page to their profile and then monitors public response. Do other people think this is a good match? Is the employee needing convincing? The software uses this information to plan next steps and furthur refine the list.

Software has long promised much innovation in decision support, but absent data, social interaction and enough sensors, the software will remain too dumb to really provide any help.

One additional point that Scoble makes in The Age of Context is around peoples ability to opt in or opt out of these types of engagements. I think everyone should be encouraged to do whatever they feel is in their own best interest. If you don’t want to participate in internal or external collaboration or social networks, opt out by not signing up or by limiting your interactions. Don’t want Company A’s software to auto-match you to opportunities? Then opt out or simply don’t respond to the inquiries. This should always be your right, but opting out comes with the potential to be left behind or miss out on something that would have improved your life.

This is not an if but a when and it has in fact already begun. Sensors will soon track your shopping habits and it’s just a matter of time before you are going to be tracked at work. Companies already monitor where employees go on the internet when connected to the companies network, the expansion of this to physical tracking is inevitable and something I would welcome and I think most will come to appreciate.

My opinion is Facebook is doing more of what it was created for and is not violating your privacy. Facebook won’t say it, but the obvious way to completely and fully protect your privacy from Facebook is to delete your profile. You can adjust your settings to protect some of your data which is a form of partial opt out. Bottom line is if you are concerned about it, spend some time understanding what graphical search does and then decide to modify your privacy settings or get off Facebook.