The sheer comfort and ease many of us have when sharing our most personal thoughts, whereabouts, and family relationships just might be the reason a new era of cyber criminals are lurking as our next “friend” on Facebook. Perhaps even more concerning is the data aggregation of consumers online and social networking behavior, which is costing some people job offers and turning away insurance providers.

Consumers are waking up from a social media trance to find out the real consequences of disclosing perhaps a little too much about themselves.  As Facebook went public, so has the real reality of the company’s most powerful asset: an inventory of human behavior and personal data.  For the company, this means a solid foundation for continued advertising sales.  As consumers, it means we may need to start reading more of the fine print when accepting those “terms and conditions” statements.

Lori Andrews, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, published an article in the New York Times recently exposing the practice of social media and online data aggregation and what it means for today’s consumers.  Andrews describes what is now called “redlining,” which is a map of consumers’ travels across the web.  The term “weblining” is the practice of denying certain opportunities to consumers based on their digital identities.  Andrews and others are now advocating for a new law which would allow consumers the right to opt out of online tracking capabilities.   She has dubbed it the “Do-Not-Track Law”, similar to what we have come to know as the “Do-Not-Call Law.”

What does all of this mean for today’s marketers?  Brands need to be cautious that their efforts to zero in on a specific target audience not come across as invasive. As more online privacy red flags are raised, brands need to be working harder to build trust with consumers instead of scaring them away. Brands which can find just the right formula for this dilemma will reap long-term success.

Want to see just how comfortable some people are with their Facebook posts?  Check out a website created for that purpose at We Know What You’re Doing.

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