How third parties turn your data into cash
The personal information that you willingly (or unwittingly) give to Facebook can be invaluable to its partners, who slice and dice the data to rake in hundreds. We find out just who's looking at and earning from your personal information.
Marketers and advertisers
Companies selling everything from online dating services to lattes are thrilled that they can direct their advertising to Facebook's 400 million users through nine key demographic and psychographic filters.
"It offers the kind of targeting that marketers have been looking for for years," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for eMarketer.
In January, Einstein Bros Bagels ran a highly successful Facebook promotional campaign, offering new fans of its Facebook page a digital coupon for a free bagel. The company grew its fanbase from 7,000 to 613,063 (as of this writing). In exchange for free food, Facebook users gave Einstein Bros feedback on food preferences, stores, and who they are.
Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media management company Vitrue, calls Facebook pages a great way to get to know your fans.
"There are features like polls, quizzes, or coupons; through those vehicles, you can collect all kinds of market research," says Bradford.
To answer that question, Vitrue created the Social Page Evaluator tool, which attempts to quantify the return on investment for a Facebook page. The tool places a $3,227,020 value on the Einstein Bros. Bagels page based on the number of fans, the posted content on the page, and the interaction between the two.
Note: The dollar amount doesn't correlate to real-world dollars, but instead serves mostly as a way to compare the 'value' between pages. You can evaluate your own Facebook page.
You could also say that Facebook users are worth the $605m that eMarketer expects marketers to spend on worldwide Facebook advertising by the end of 2010. That's up from $435m in 2009. eMarketer defines advertising as display, video, search, and other forms of advertising appearing within social network environments.
"Quantifying the value of a Facebook fan is something we're going to see a lot more of in the next year," says eMarketer's Williamson.
Despite waves of privacy backlash, Facebook continues to thrive and to look for new ways to make money for itself and its partners. To do that, Facebook will continue to leverage its biggest asset: you.
"Facebook is a business. I don't think they have any ill will toward anyone, but they're going to do anything they can as a corporation to be successful," says Popp. "The onus of privacy is on the person using the web."
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See also: How to use Facebook safely