Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why do we trust Facebook with our data more than the government?

Do you trust Facebook more than the government? Facebook openly knows a lot about you, and much of it is information people would never report to the government. Don't believe me? Sign up for Wisdom on Facebook, and then do a data search using the Wisdom network: what you will see is an annonymized version of the info Facebook knows about you and
your network (not to mention Zynga, that store you liked on your profile page, etc.).

Yeah, but would you vote for him for office?
(By the way, nice windsor  knot there Mark) 
But it begs the question, why are people more willing to give their information to Mark Zuckerberg, who has no accountability to them, and are unwilling to share information with the US government, who at least has the added control that you vote them into office? 

Big data combined with official statistics is a very complex subject that gets almost philosophical at times. At the Big Stats event at the World Bank this last week, they discussed that the main source of big data available to governments is the private sector. Robert Groves, the former Director for the US Census Bureau identified 3 reasons why the private sector is reticent to share that data:

1.   Liability-The private sector is worried that if they share data with the government, it will be used in a lawsuit against them where the data was used to wrong an individual who then went on to sue them
2.   Standards of confidentiality-Companies are worried that if they lower their standards of confidentiality, they will be perceived as less protective than competitors in the eyes of their customers
3.   They don’t want to get scooped—Companies worry that if they share data, another group will use it to identify some new trend, thereby “scooping” the company using their own data

It says something that companies are not willing to share data with governments because of confidentiality and liability concerns.  Big data has a large, underlying trust that is set up by companies with their customers, and these 3 reasons indicate that companies feel they can’t trust government with this information. As a result, private companies become the owners of big data.

Have you heard ofAxciom? They are Lords of Information Brokerage. Axciom is supposed to have the largest database of information on consumers in the US, and they have collected this data quietly. Several months ago, I heard Tim Suther from Acxiom speak about some of the big picture perspectives they have on big data.  A core concept in his presentation was that companies that collect data need to create trust. They must provide a clear exchange of value for the data, while at the same time being transparent with their customers and giving them the choice on that value exchange. You use Facebook for the social interaction it provides—you may not like that you have to give them access to your data, but you know that that tradeoff is there, and you have the choice to leave Facebook if you don’t like it.

Now think back to the government example. What does the government give you that you would want in exchange for the data you receive? The value proposition is not as obvious.

In frontier markets it makes more sense: government transparency and accountability are often questionable at best. As a result, data is not going to be as trustworthy, and organizations that want to know more about their stakeholders need to be selective in the information they collect.

But this still leaves me wondering: in an environment where data is being collected on so many for commerce, what is being done to collect data for social good?

I’d be great to hear what you think about this. Are you more comfortable with giving data to a private source or the government? Why? Should governments be using big data for official statistics?  

Photo Credit: Forbes

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