Facebook IPO & the Dark, Dirty Secrets of Facebook vs. Google Data

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As I baked muffins to celebrate Facebook’s IPO, it occurred to me that there’s one HUGE, unspoken difference between the data people reveal to Facebook and what Google collects through search and other tools.  It’s this: Facebook knows the image you want to project to the world – your “social resume”. Beautiful vacation photos; that perfect profile photo you Photoshopped so much that your nose is part puma, part Joan Rivers; and those photos of you surrounded by hot girls that lets the world (and Facebook) know that your party never stops.

Well, Google knows your dark, ugly, dirty truths.  Your transcribed Google Voice messages reveal you argued nonstop on that island vacation as your kids yelled, “I hate you!” in the background.  Your search history shows all your liposuction research, as your Photoshop bills skyrocket.  Several of your eHarmony dates have jumped through glass storefronts to escape your shocking, incongruous looks.  Google also knows where you’ve been – HOME!!! Your Android phone tattles like a four year old bribed with brownies. It reports your every move and it knows you’ve barely moved. You haven’t been invited to a hot party since October ’09, when you made your one friend wait two hours as you caked on makeup, trying to look your very beast…I mean ‘best’, before leaving the house.

What I’m saying is – you have two lives.  The pretty, inauthentic one you construct on Facebook and the one where Mistress Sally from Craigslist walks on your face with stilettos wrapped in bacon. (Don’t ask…I just write whatever my imagination conjures.)  Point is, that disparity creates a very different value proposition for the two companies. As Google mines your dark side, Facebook scrapes away at your veneer to get to it.

Differences in Value and Usefulness

Google’s data, especially now, is pervasive, personal, and follows you across platforms.  If you saw everything Google knows about you in one place, it might shock you into trading in Mistress Sally for Sally Struthers. Using tools like cookies, email, and Chrome browser, Google stitches together a documentary about you, while Facebook is more of a scripted series.  The company’s IPO will reveal if that show is Seinfeld or Homeboys in Outer Space.   (I suspect it’s the former.)

So which data will companies pay more for?  Depends on the company. Social bonds reveal subtleties, but they’d never tell Preparation H that you have “a problem”, like Google might.  I haven’t seen how many ‘likes’ the Prep H fan page has, but I bet you it’s fewer than Kim Kardashian’s…though both rose to fame in the same general region.

Most companies will be happy with what Facebook offers – a peek at your past and present.  Google also sells them a peek at your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

There’s also a pull vs. push situation when placing ads with the two companies. On Facebook, you push ads to people based on likes and preferences. For example, people are more likely to respond to ads with funny dog videos, Tony Robbins-like messages of hope, and ads for handbags you crave but can’t afford. On Google, you often seek things out proactively through search . Since its properties span news, shopping, entertainment and many more, advertisers can help you buy a new dog or a new “digital innovation strategy”.

The Great, Frictionless Equalizer

Today, on Google, you’re used to clicking on new and strange links, since you’re searching for new and strange things.  Plus, you think no one is watching and you’ve learned to ignore the creepy, ultra-clairvoyant ads inside of Gmail. On Facebook, you’ve been trained to click on things endorsed by friends.  Google recognized that, so it launched Google+.  There are many things to like about Google+, but it’s evolving as an impersonal network for ideas and hobbies rather than a personal one about relationships. For now, Facebook has a lock on your personal preferences, Blossom fan club membership, and relationship patterns.

The great equalizer is Facebook’s foray into The Dark Side is  frictionless sharing. It’s exactly what it sounds like – scary! It shares your steamy browsing activity on participating sites, without you laboring to click a “Like” button.  It can also require that you sign up for certain apps, like The Guardian or Washington Post, to read stories inside of Facebook.

Of course all of this will be shared, unless you have a PhD in Facebook Privacy Settings.  If it gets mass adoption (without a user revolt), this virus-like behavior will reveal ALL your browsing movements to Facebook’s corporate customers (marketers, good and evil) and occasionally, to your friends.  Your illusion of anonymity will keep this system profitable…and hopefully, your bikini pics out of your boss’s feed.

So which is worth more?

For now, it’s Google.  The main reason is it has more powerful tools in Android and Chrome to get inside your life’s Operating System, the way Facebook can’t quite yet.  That will soon change.  After Facebook goes public, it will be pressured to grow.  Don’t be surprised when you see Facebook phones, browsers, and payments mechanisms scattered throughout the web and your life.  And, you can bet all these new features will be dressed in stilettos, wrapped in investor dollars, and doing their best to walk all over Google.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.