skydiving in tandem
PHOTO: Jakob Owens

The recent Facebook personal data controversary raises two questions: How much is our privacy worth to us? How much is our convenience worth to us? It seems that we value convenience much more than we value privacy.

Facebook is a business that makes money off our personal data. The more data on us it has the more money it makes. What Facebook is not is a community. Facebook may provide community-building tools but its essence is a business that makes money out of community, connectedness and personal data. Facebook sells you community-building tools for free, which you pay for by giving away your privacy. It gives you the printer for free but you pay for the ink.

Fifteen percent of Australians trust Facebook, according to a survey that was carried out before the Cambridge Analyticia controversary erupted. It would be difficult to find a country where the majority of people trust Facebook. It would be difficult to find a country where the majority of people don’t use Facebook.

Why do we use what we don’t trust? If you were sawing wood would you use a saw that you didn’t trust? A saw whose blade had a reputation for splintering. Would you drive a car that you didn’t trust? Would you get on a plane you don’t trust?

Do you trust Ryanair? Do you fly with Ryanair? Do you trust Google? Do you use Google? Do you trust Facebook? Do you use Facebook?

Lots of people say they don’t trust Ryanair but they fly with them and thus do trust Ryanair with their safety and their lives. I may not trust Google the organization, but I do trust Google Maps to get me where I’m going. We got a new car in January. It has a navigation system with a big screen. But I don’t use it. Instead, I use Google Maps on my smartphone with a much smaller screen. You see, I don’t trust that the car navigation system will get me to where I want to go by the fastest route. (I tried it a couple of times and it didn’t do the job well and I’m not going to try it again.)

Clearly, we trust Facebook for something. We trust it to help us find our friends. We trust it to help us efficiently manage our social lives. Facebook advertising is like Google advertising. It’s not like the traditional advertising that constantly disrupted and annoyed us. It is targeted and precise. It knows us, figures out what we’re interested in, knows what we want, or knows what we can be subtly made to want.

For some people, Facebook is a lifetime sentence of debt. It will convince us to consistently spend more than we can afford because the more we spend with its advertisers, the more money it makes. And we will do all this because it’s convenient, easy, familiar, free. It knows us like a friend.

The top digital brands know how critical convenience, findability and ease of use are. They know how critical it is to know us. We give up our personal data so easily and cheaply to those who make our lives easier. We see Facebook and Google as great bargains because they are free and easy to use. We need to know how much we are worth. We need to know how much we actually end up paying for what is so free and easy.