The scandal involving Facebook supplying data to Cambridge Analytica indeed raised a lot of questions on the price that consumers pay for a “free” service such as Facebook. Although it was already known (for many years) that advertisers can access information pertaining to customers’ habits and preferences, it did not appear to be a huge problem until the idea that a company such as Cambridge Analytica could manipulate (or in their words “steal”) an election!

Perhaps it was unfathomable that data, with the help of advanced AI could be used to manipulate human behaviour. We at Momentum Works believe in everyone’s right to privacy, but also would like to share our thoughts on it. Our team have collectively set-up and launched quite a few businesses over the years, and must admit that as customers’ needs become more and more tailored to the individual, it is also increasingly challenging not to collect data to serve that need. Businesses that do not collect information about their customer are foolish, and doomed for failure.

Collecting customer information is nothing new

It was not unusual that your neighbourhood mom and pop grocery store (when it was still there) used to call your parents by name, and knew specifically what they needed to whip up your favourite dish, on any particular day. You see, collecting information is what made them able to keep your parents’ business, and there was nothing wrong with it. Infact, your parents appreciated the fact that they were well taken care of.

Now, if the grocery store owner goes on and gossip about your family – would you be able to stop it? No, not exactly. However, you probably can choose not to do business with them ever again – the same thing Facebook customers can choose to do. But will they stop using Facebook? Answer is probably, NO.

No real alternatives, people are used to “free”

Personal profiles being sold, and social media feed being manipulated to serve the purpose of swaying judgment on certain topics – are increasingly being accepted as part and parcel of having “free access”. Why whine when you are getting it for free? Beggars can’t be choosers, can they?

There was a time when app publishers could make a lot of money selling apps – nowdays it is mostly through freemium or advertising

The truth is there are no real alternatives and there are only really use a handful of social media platforms (all of which sell customer information to advertisers). Ask a friend to pay for an online service, they will look at you in disgust. Why pay for a service when it has been free for so many years now. This is what happens when the only real monetization of online services has been to put up advertising – meaning there is not other way than to submit to advertisers’ needs.

Who needs who more

On the other hand, we willingly give information to the people we trust. We are aware that our bank knows what we purchased using our credit card, but we are comfortable with that. Or rather, it is an acceptable tit for tat principle.

After all, can you really live without a credit card? The truth is (and we know it) banks do not give us huge lines of credit without first knowing where you stay, how much money you make, and where you work. If they in turn use the information they gathered to sell you more products, you are fine – since it is not outright manipulation – you were given a choice of “YES” or “NO”.

Again, where do we draw the line for people who have our information?

Conclusion

While we do not condone the abuse of information and privacy, we contend that in many years to come, issues such as these will not really matter. There are two main reasons for this – consumer and government.

As consumers will not be able to do without the service (say for example social media), thus they do not have any bargaining power on how their information should be used. As for governments – whether we like it or not, the growth and the acceptance of a surveillance state will continue on an upwards trajectory as unrest start to grow in volatile regions due to declining economic growth. More and more citizens will vote for surveillance (that means massive data gathering) as they want to preserve their way of life.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at hello@mworks.asia.

 

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He has worn many hats in the past - selling advertising space, banking services, and even trading stocks. In 2013, longing for a change of scenery, he joined Rocket Internet’s (now Alibaba’s) Lazada as a online marketer in Bangkok, where he experienced first hand life in a startup. He never looked back since - landing lead roles at Rocket’s EasyTaxi (Singapore), Rocket’s MEIG (Dubai), and Bamilo (Tehran). After that, he launched (and ran) the Thai venture for one of Singapore’s biggest cross-border ecommerce. Last year, Chong put his expertise to work, helping an SGX-listed company relocate to and run operations in Thailand. Nowadays, he’s just chilling by the countryside.