New Facebook Privacy Policy Presents Opportunity for Marketers

Heralding more freedom and communication for young users, Facebook's (NASDAQ: FB  ) new privacy policy has changed the way it handles information shared by users aged 13 to 17.

What does this mean for businesses? With Facebook ad space and youth user information becoming a more prized commodity, companies can now collect data for advertisers and marketing purposes on each individual teen user.

Facebook describes this as "a new option to share more broadly."

In a statement describing the recent changes, the company writes, "Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard. So, starting today, people aged 13 through 17 will also have the choice to post publicly on Facebook. While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services."

More harm than good?

Yet, some believe this new openness makes youth users more vulnerable. In an email interview, Joy Spencer, project director for Digital Food Marketing and Youth Initiative with the Center for Digital Democracy, explained how Facebook may benefit financially from recent privacy changes, as well as how they might experience a public relations backlash.

"Facebook's recent changes result in the removal of important privacy safeguards that teens used to enjoy when using the platform," said Spencer. "The absence of a public posting option was designed to limit their online exposure and protect their personal data. That protection is now gone."

Spencer acknowledges business advantages from the privacy settings.

"Marketing and advertising companies will now have access to the public comments, likes, photos and other posts of teens," she said. "The more marketers know about a Facebook user, the more they can make their targeted ads personal and likely to go viral. Now marketers can gather more information about youth activities and preferences on Facebook in order to reach this group in a more in-depth manner than they could yesterday."

The business value for Facebook

Spencer sees this as potential money-making change for Facebook.

"Facebook will now be able to make money by offering marketers more data-enriched access to a lucrative and influential market: teens," said Spencer. 

The privacy changes could also lead to impulsive online shopping.

"Youth will now be vulnerable to some of the same privacy concerns that many adults have on the platform. This risk of broader exposure combined with the tendency of teens to be impulsive when online is problematic," said Spencer. "It does not give teens the room they need to make mistakes within a more forgiving Internet environment. At one time Facebook understood this and provided teens and parents with the tools to protect teen privacy in a manner that was appropriate for their needs. In the end these changes will result in more harm to teen privacy and expose them to more data collection and targeting from marketers. Facebook's aim is always to encourage its users toward more personal data exposure. These new changes reflect that they want to encourage this among teens."

Spencer acknowledged that Facebook's default posting of "friends" was a good starting point, but said more potential problems could result from the public option.

"While a default posting setting of 'friends' helps teens protect their privacy, they must do so in an environment with fewer safeguards,"  explained Spencer. "The introduction of the public posting option places a greater burden on teens and parents to be extra vigilant about their privacy settings." 

Competition among social networks vying for the youth market continues to heat up.

Other social networks, such as Tumblr, are being used more often then Facebook, with Twitter and Instagram also picking up steam among young users. The 13 to 17 age group is a favorite target for advertisers worldwide through social media.

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