Why Facebook's real customers are advertisers

Facebook's happiest customers are advertisers, according to privacy experts, who said users remain with the service due to a lack of well-designed alternatives.

At the opening session of the annual ISSE conference in Berlin, panellist Henri Kujala, the head of the privacy office of Nokia's soon-to-be-sold Here mapping service, pointed out the paradox of privacy when it comes to the way people behave online.

"What we see is that if there are surveys about are people concerned about privacy, most people will say 'yes, of course I am', [but] their responses do not correspond to action," said Kujala.

"They still [go on] the same way they always do and use ... Facebook the same way as they did yesterday. So these concerns ... do not reflect on reality," he said.

Jaap-Henk Hoepman, scientific director at the Privacy and Identity Lab at Radboud University in the Netherlands, argued that the reason for this behaviour is a lack of real alternatives.

"If you are living somewhere where the only thing you can eat is bananas and you may ask people 'do you like bananas?' maybe half of them will say 'no, we don't like bananas', but you have to live, you have to survive, so you can only eat bananas," said Hoepman.

"You want to have choice, you want to have tools - you want to have useful tools - without any of the consequences," he added. "You want to have a social network that does not collect personal data."

According to Hoepman, the primary reason for this is that users mistakenly think they are the customers of these networks, but they are not - they are the product. The real customers are the companies user data is sold to.

"If you want to change anything in terms of privacy on the internet, then you have to ... think about do you want these kind of companies to have these kinds of business models?" he said.

However, there is a further hurdle. While secure social networks and security tools are available, they do not offer the level of user experience that the likes of Facebook provide.

"[These tools] are typically well designed from a technical perspective, but they are totally unusable from a user perspective. PGP - really good privacy, technically yes, but even I'm not sure, and I'm supposed to be an expert, whether I'm using it in the right way," Hoepman concluded.

Jane McCallion
Managing Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's Managing Editor, specializing in data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Managing Editor, she held the role of Deputy Editor and, prior to that, Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialize in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.