Today is Data Privacy Day and YOU are the CEO of Facebook


For those that don’t know, January 28 is Data Privacy Day.  And although you may not have the title of  CEO at Facebook, we would like to pretend that you are in charge of it for the day.

So what would you do if you were CEO of Facebook and you had to make some important decisions today? There’s a plethora of issues you need to address, such as hiring more employees to work on new innovations and additional features, and building new data centers that can host the additional servers that will be needed to store the billions of photos and videos users are uploading every month. And you will obviously need more revenue to keep the company growing and see it succeed.  Supporting half a billion users and being ready for many millions more is an expensive proposition.

So how exactly can you increase the revenue, when it seems clear that most users would prefer not to pay for the service and enjoy using it for free? Advertising is likely part of the answer, but the most common business model for free web sites involves allowing ad networks to track users’ activity to sell ads on other web sites, something you have refrained from doing. You do yourself use information that users post or share to tailor ads. Some users seem to find those ads relevant, because they do click on them more than ads that aren’t targeted. But others complain that it sometimes feels discomfiting.

So how can you solve this riddle as the CEO of facebook? Some people say you could make the current ads on the site bigger.  Or you could allow pop-ups or could make people click through a full page ad to get into the site. Lots of sites do that for the additional revenue it brings in. Users might not like that, but what are the other options?

Is increasing user control and innovations around the advertising experience the solution? Can information that users share be used in a way that actually makes the ads more useful to users (and valuable to advertisers) because they really are relevant, without feeling intrusive? How can we be sure to tell users how the system works so they can see  the data that is being used ? How can users be assured the information will only be used to benefit them?  Can we give them control of the experience?  If you were the CEO of facebook, how would you design a privacy friendly and trustworthy advertising system that would earn the funds to buy those servers and pay the employees, while still keeping users happy? How can you explain this system to users and show them how to use the controls, without making them read trough a long privacy policy? Do you, our reader, have innovative ideas that can support privacy, profits and personalization?

As a think tank focused on advancing responsible data practices, those are the questions that the Future of Privacy Forum is asking our readers to answer on Data Privacy Day. We are social media enthusiasts who value connecting and sharing, but also recognize that online data use requires responsible practices by companies and by users.  So help us celebrate this special day by sharing your ideas on our Facebook page. We will make sure to pass the best ideas on to our community of privacy advocates, academics and senior privacy leaders at the companies we work with.

On Data Privacy Day, you can’t be the CEO of Facebook, but you can help us think through the privacy challenges and opportunities that online companies grapple with every day. Find us on Facebook to be part of the Future of Privacy and to share your thoughts about user control,  innovation and privacy.

Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf