Questions about whether personal data is secure on social media have become more vexing than ever now now that a former Cambridge Analytica official says that the firm was using more apps than previously known to collect user data.
Already it had been revealed that the company harvested data from 87 million Facebook users, leading to Congressional hearings and prompting some Americans to re-evaluate social media’s importance in their lives.
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The new revelations that the problem was even more widespread than previously known could add fuel to the fire in terms of Congressional oversight, but for the average social media user the most pertinent question could be this: What improvements can be made toward better security and functionality as new social media sites pop up?
“Americans have only recently become concerned that their most personal data is being collected by Facebook, Instagram, Google and others – specifically to help all manner of good and bad actors to ‘target’ them with advertisements and messages about who knows what,” says Scott Relf, CEO and co-founder of PikMobile Inc., an ad-free social media app where users have the option to add paid subscriptions into their news feed.
“These companies are offering a free service, then betraying their users’ trust by selling them out to advertisers.”
Relf says now more users seem to want to protect themselves from companies that exploit them by using data harvesting. Users want to be in control of their own data and to choose what’s on their own news feed, he says.
“Isn’t social media supposed to help people stay connected to their friends and in touch with the news?” Relf asks. “Unfortunately, now people have to worry about their personal information and where it goes, and sort through the distracting clutter and annoyances on their news feed.”
Relf lists five elements users want in new or improved social media networks:
- A more competitive model. The Facebook data controversy led to more social media users wanting to take more control. “Consumers of social media want to have a choice of services, instead of being forced to choose among four major services that all use the same advertising-driven data harvesting,” Relf says. “Ultimately, only competition in the social media marketplace will force companies to focus on serving their customers’ needs better.”
- Paid subscriptions instead of advertising. Some industry experts say the free- media-with-advertising package is losing steam while interest in sites offering premium subscription content, but without ads, is trending upward. “It has to do with attention spans, more media choices and a desire to cut through the clutter and distractions,” Relf says. “People that prefer no-charge, ad-supported services like AM/FM radio and traditional television may continue to prefer Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but an increasing number of people prefer to pay either a modest subscription fee to have ad-free services from Netflix, SiriusXM, and Apple Music, or a combination of free content and paid content from pioneers like LinkedIn and Business Insider.”
- Mobile readiness. According to Google, more Americans use mobile devices than use laptops and desktops, and that is changing their wants and needs. “Mobile users want faster page loads than desktop or laptop users,” Relf says. “Thus, what was not long ago a luxury is now a necessity in the social media game – having an app, a mobile version of a website, or both.”
- Integrated features that encourage interactions, create community. “Online interactions are the fuel on which online communities thrive,” Relf says. “People want friendly communities with things in common. It’s important that you integrate features that foster interactions and encourage users to create exciting content.”
- Ability to monetize content. “Users should be able to choose what they see from their favorite creators, celebrities and organizations,” Relf says. “The premium content subscription model enables creators of great content to be paid for their work, and customers aren’t sold out to advertisers.”
“Trends don’t pop up out of nowhere,” Relf says. “People are now more aware of social media problems and how it can get better. ‘User-friendly’ has taken on added meaning for companies trying to compete for valuable space.”
About Scott Relf
Scott Relf and his wife, Renee, are the co-founders of PikMobile, a dual-function mobile app that combines a unique viewing platform and a digital content publishing system. A former senior executive for several large corporations, Relf has expertise in bringing breakthrough products and services into the consumer mass market. He co-founded startup Zave Networks, which was sold to Google in 2011. Relf earned a BA in management and economics from Rice University and an MSBA in management from the Boston University Questrom School of Business.