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Marketing and advertising are two ways of selling a product to consumers. But what happens when we ourselves become the product?

The Internet has created a new type of marketing that targets advertisements and messages using information that Internet users themselves have provided. The value of this information has soared over the past ten years.

Here is our «value» today as Internet users:

 
Number of users
«Value» of a user
Facebook
1.2 billion
$146
Twitter
232 million
$129
LinkedIn
259 million
$90
WhatsApp
450 million
$35.5
Instagram
150 million
$6.7

Source: The Huffington Post

More and more of us are posting information on social networks, both professional (e.g. LinkedIn and Viadeo) and personal (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter), as well as on blogs and forums.

It is a gold mine of information, and companies have been created specifically to research, compile and resell it. For example, your age-sex-address data are worth €0.007. A message on Facebook mentioning a future marriage is valued at $0.107 and a Google search related to heart disease, $0.447. If you are interested in exercising to lose weight, some companies will pay $0.552 to know who you are.

Though these individual amounts may seem small, the total value of European users’ data is put at $315 billion today and projected to reach $945 billion by 2020.

We need to be careful about the information we communicate on social networks, and not just because of its potential use by marketers.

Young children and adolescents are especially vulnerable. It is important to help them use the social networks and Internet properly and, when they are very young, to install parental control software. A recent study indicated that 48% of youngsters between the ages of 8 and 17 had a Facebook account and that 88% of them posted personal photos, 68% their email address, and 27% their postal address. An astounding 31% admitted they had added people they had never met to their contacts.

Meanwhile, pirates are using the social networks to collect useful information (position/function, email addresses, contacts/friends, etc.) before carrying out attacks like targeted phishing (cf. Don't take the bait!). The social networks have also become fertile hunting ground for identity thieves.

In view of these threats, it is essential that we follow certain rules to protect the information we post on the social networks to the greatest extent possible.

  • Always ask yourself if you would display the same information or the same photo on your desk, in the window of the corner bakery, or on the door of the sleaziest building in Europe.
  • Always remind yourself that the information will still be accessible five, ten or fifteen years later.
  • Do not publish information concerning other people, including photos (which may be copyrighted), without their formal consent.
  • Do not give information concerning your employer that is not in the public domain without its prior agreement. For example,
    • a specialist may not publish network diagrams or portions of programs when seeking help on a forum without his employer’s go-ahead;
    • a back-office employee may not describe in detail his responsibilities in the operation of the payment system;
    • a finance manager’s assistant may not post information about the company’s operations and
    • a project manager may not discuss a steering committee’s work without their employers’ prior agreement.
  • Be sure the security settings are correctly defined to keep your personal data and those of your network private.

And a final reminder: information published on the Internet can have consequences in real life, so be careful!

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