The internet has been going on about data privacy issues on the social media networks which have become a standard go-to for all of us in our daily lives.
In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook, Twitter and Google were summoned by governments across the globe. While they might have been put on pedestal and questioned about their business practices, nothing came out of it. Mainly because the network giants were able to convince everyone, that while they are processing the data given by the users of their platform, the users are giving this data out of their own free will.
This is because there is an option on the platform from which they can either delete their history or turn off the data sharing. If people are not using these options, that means they want to see targeted ads, and are willing to allow the companies to continue monetizing their data.
The Default settings
I believe Human beings are lazy in nature. We don’t think twice before clicking agree to the end User Agreement for apps and softwares, just click allow for any option when an app is installing, and we do not bother checking what options are active or inactive till the time there is an emergency.
Keeping this in mind, I believe while there might be an option for users to turn off their data sharing, very few of us actually exercise these rights.
Product managers understand this. They spend their lifetimes understanding user behaviors and something as simple as a switch left on instead of off, gives an illusion of free will to the user. and more than 90% of the users (if not more) never bother with it as it is not causing any inconvenience in their lives.
I went through the current user journey on Facebook and Google to see how it works:
You can check your preferences here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/
The Facebook options were fairly straight forward, but it was at the bottom of the complete settings list and once there, if you tried to change the settings you were prompted about what you might lose if you change the settings. A normal user who does not understand technology does not go ahead with it as they do not understand the repercussions and do not want to ‘break the system’.
Google’s user journey is more complicated as I had to go through 3 different pages to actually reach the privacy options and the pages were descriptive and you can actually control a lot of data.
You can make the changes in your preferences here: https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup
Now if you are a product manager, you would know that the moment you give a lot of options to a user, they get confused. I myself, did not change anything after I reached this page as there were too many options for me to choose.
While Google gives you the power, it would be interesting to know how many people actually make the changes once they are on this page.
What if the Default settings were different
Now consider a scenario when the default settings of these networks are with data sharing as off, and a prompt notification which asks them to switch on the settings manually.
Most people will not bother turning them on, and these platforms, which monitor our activities even when we are not actively on the platform, would only be able to get data from users who have willingly and consciously allowed the platforms to get their data and show them targeted ads.
The downside, and this is what all the platforms keep saying in their defense, is the quality of ads that you would see would deteriorate. they would not be customized and would be random, at best suited according to the cookie data which your browser might be providing the platform.
But then, if you are not ok with that, you can always turn on the data sharing from the settings, isn’t it?
Isn’t that what free-will means?
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: Your water tank has a hole, and water keeps leaking from it till the time you do not put a seal on it.
Scenario 2: You have a small tap and you choose when to let the water flow, and have a small stream of water running so it could feed the birds flying to your water tank.
Which one would you choose?
Most of us would choose Scenario 2, while the used case which we are living Daily is Scenario 1.
I believe instead of asking Facebook and Google to change their business model, which is a behemoth task and success would be unlikely, I believe it is easier for us to persuade them to change their default settings and then users can consciously choose to switch them on.
This would not only educate them about what data they are sharing, but also not lead to massive missteps like Brexit and 2016 US elections in the future.