Consumers Not Happy Being Tracked by Facebook

Jul 24, 2012

Some consumers don’t mind having their online actions tracked. Others get creeped out by it. It often comes down to what site is doing the tracking.

According to new research conducted by Harris Interactive for Placecast, 66 percent of consumers were okay with the idea of having Amazon using their purchasing history to target new offers. On the other hand, only 33 percent were good with Facebook doing the same.

"Facebook’s business is based on the use of consumer data to target ads. They clearly have a challenge convincing their huge user base that there is value in the exchange of personal data for a free service," said Placecast CEO Alistair Goodman, in a statement. "In contrast, Amazon is a company just a few years older than Facebook, but they have created a scenario where consumers understand and accept the benefit their data provides for the service they are receiving, much like consumer’s acceptance of grocery coupons tied to purchase data."

Discussion Questions: Does the low percentage of consumers comfortable with being tracked on Facebook suggest a problem for F-commerce and Facebook marketing going forward? What do online merchants need to do to make consumers more comfortable with having their purchase and/or browsing history tracked?

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16 Comments on "Consumers Not Happy Being Tracked by Facebook"

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Dick Seesel

Facebook users have long had concerns about privacy issues, and it’s not surprising that the problem extends to e-commerce. Sharing consumer preferences with marketers is one thing, but the thought of sharing the other kinds of personal data on Facebook is disconcerting. In contrast, Amazon is a “closed system” dealing specifically with consumer behavior, not personal data, so it’s no wonder that there is much higher acceptance for its brand of data mining.

Max Goldberg

The point is not about benefits, it’s about trust. Consumers over the years have come to trust Amazon. Not so with Facebook. Amazon has worked hard to gain consumers’ trust through great customer service, innovation to make the site easier to use — constant innovation, with consumers in mind. Facebook has continuously demonstrated a willful disregard for privacy, thereby draining any reservoir of consumer trust.

Amazon’s trust comes from the top. So does Facebook’s lack of trust.

The lesson for retailers: Treat consumers with respect, value their privacy and provide excellent customer service. When you accomplish this, consumers will let you use that trust to help them make purchase decisions.

Ken Lonyai

Logically, there is little difference in the two approaches: they are using personal consumer data to facilitate the sale of more products.

Mr. Goodman’s comments don’t hold water. Specifically “They clearly have a challenge convincing their huge user base that there is value in the exchange of personal data for a free service.” Ahem… there are around 900M users and growing. How can that be if Facebook has to convince people about their model?

I’ve commented on this on RetailWire before and stand behind my assertion that when you poll most people about privacy issues, marketing tactics, etc. they are very concerned, surprised, and dismayed at whatever it is you ask them about. Then, they go back to their same habits that violate what they claim to be aghast at. Unfortunately, for most of the population, these issues are just talk and most retailers or sellers needn’t worry too much about these sorts of studies. However, they MUST provide a clear statement of the data they collect, how it’s used, who it’s shared with, its intent, etc. or risk loss of customers, legal issues, and even unexpected bad press.

Liz Crawford

It’s one thing to shop Amazon and get “like offers” … shoppers half expect that. It’s quite another to be on Facebook, e-socializing, only to have the information used to sell. The difference is about context and intention. Commerce crashes a party, but is welcomed in a marketplace.

Zel Bianco

I believe there will always be difficulty for companies such as Facebook regarding the tracking of online usage. I understand that some privacy is given up in exchange for access to use online social media services, and I can accept that to a certain level. I am more comfortable with an online merchant, such as Amazon, offering suggestions based on previous purchases and items I have viewed.

It’s a consumer-beware world and almost impossible to avoid internet tracking in this day and age of constant connectivity given the ease of access through smart phones, tablets, etc.

Phil Rubin
5 years 2 months ago

Data, when used responsibly, provides value back to the customer who was the source of those data. Of course consumers do not place a great deal of trust in Facebook, as the company has consistently demonstrated a general disregard for consumers. While this is understandable given that it’s an advertiser-driven business model, the less trust that its users have means that ultimately there is less value in the audience.

Amazon, from its CEO throughout the organization, does things with its consumers in mind. It’s quite the opposite of Facebook in this regard, even if its business model has shifted to more B2B versus B2C.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, and this is where Facebook falls short, especially when it’s compared to Amazon.

michael bigley
michael bigley
5 years 2 months ago
There is a simple solution to Facebook’s problem: provide true user value and the privacy concerns will largely go away. For all the data they are collecting on me, I have yet to see an ad compelling enough to click on. I doubt anyone understands shopper marketing in the entire company. And the bar is low, when looking at Amazon’s approval. Amazon uses data better, but without context, so it too is noisy. For example, I recently looked for a dish drainer on Amazon, which created a spree of kitchen accessory emails. If they were using the context of my purchase history, they should know I just wanted a dish drainer, nothing more. On the other hand, Facebook is also too liberal with allowing sketchy developers access to open graph data. Access to this data should be fee based, which would eliminate most spammers, and a more rigorous review process should be conducted on developers willing to pay for data access. Developers would grumble and threaten to leave, but some are making millions of dollars on the back of Facebook data. Users will be relieved, which in the end is who attracts both developers and advertisers. I’m sure I’m not… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum

Amazon uses the information to make us aware of other like items we might want to purchase. This is smart marketing. Facebook and others like it? I am not as sure, confident or willing to have my information shared with others I probably have no use for.

Herb Sorensen
This can be viewed in the light of the FUTURE monetization of behavior, as discussed by Liz Crawford in her new book, “The Shopper Economy,” and highlighted by Doc Searls in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Customer as a God.“ What is happening here relative to Facebook is some pushback against the “Big Data” movement, seeing people in their totality, and “assisting” them to have a better life — including their shopping! I strongly believe (have faith) that this will happen, but make no predictions about all the bumps along the way. I am concerned that parties wishing to sell to people will screw this up royally. The reason comes from a personal selling point I learned from Frank Bettger many years ago. This is that every salesman ethically owes it to the field of selling to make every customer contact a positive one, so that even if you don’t make the sale, you leave the prospect in a positive frame of mind, relative to selling, so they will be receptive to the next salesman who comes along! What a concept! This is ethical selling that is trampled in the dust all the time, and especially electronically, whether… Read more »
Martin Mehalchin

Consumer discomfort is a problem and the increasing evidence that the targeting is not very effective is a bigger problem. One anecdotal example, after a bunch of my friends posted about a recent shooting rampage in Seattle, I started being served ads for guns and shooting ranges. The tracking clearly didn’t adjust for context. I think Facebook is at its peak right now, it will remain a contact list for long lost friends for a while, but the site in general could easily follow the trajectory of AOL 10 years ago.

Craig Sundstrom

“Facebook’s business is based on the use of consumer data to target ads…”

So much for all the people who thought its business was providing a forum for people to interact … silly them. But whether it’s Facebook or Amazon or eBay or whatever, the issue ultimately is overload. If people are no more than “okay” with something when it’s unobtrusive, then they will rapidly become intolerant of it when it becomes blatant.

Carol Spieckerman

This speaks to a larger dynamic and current conundrum that extends beyond Facebook. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, et al cannot operate as not-for-profit organizations indefinitely so that have two choices: 1. Turn users into customers by charging usage fees; 2. Turn advertisers into customers. The second option is gaining in popularity but it puts platforms at odds with the users who made them viable in the first place as they clamber to provide compelling data to advertisers. As social media platforms go from sitting firmly on one side of the fence (“It’s all about impressions and community — invaluable, but you can’t measure it”) to sitting on it (ROI-ish data), users will have to get real about what that means in terms of privacy. I’m assigning to double standard to users who over-share on free public platforms yet demand “privacy” and protection from platform providers.

Jerry Gelsomino

If a customer gives information about preferences or purchase behavior to an etailer, they are consciously making that decision, knowing full well the information will be used for future offers. Not so with Facebook or other social media sites. There should be an iron-clad agreement for opt-in or opt-out before information is shared.

gordon arnold

The greatest danger of this profiling is not what they do with the information, but rather who they sell the information to.

Kai Clarke

Yes, yes and yes. Whatever happened to personal privacy, individual freedoms and informed consent? Each of these must be agreed to by the consumer before they are tracked by marketers, or anyone else. This is akin to internet stalking without prior approval. These numbers would go to almost “0” if consent must be confirmed prior to any tracking would occur.

Kate Blake
Kate Blake
5 years 2 months ago

I have a hilarious comment on this problem. I “liked” a site called “Mitt Is Mean” which takes offense to Romney’s treatment of his dog. Facebook, reading my interest in “Romney” as a “Like,” starts sending me things to support Romney! Needless to say, it took 6 comments that the ads were offensive, for them to stop showing up on my page!


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