What Do Spiderman, Facebook, Privacy and Events Have in Common? A lot actually!

Facebook is always trying to push its social platform to a higher level. For some people, it recently pushed itself into Big Brother territory.

The social media titan has come under intense public scrutiny. Users and news outlets have noticed an odd coincidence when Facebook suggests people to add to their friend list. The people who show up on their suggestion feed are often brand new acquaintances. Reporters did some digging and discovered that Facebook uses smartphone “location data” to determine possible options. This information shows the geographical placement of users. Facebook initially confirmed this story, then denied using location data.

Public reaction has been fairly negative. People have expressed discomfort and unease with Facebook potentially invading their privacy. The company’s switch from admission to denial of its use of location data perhaps suggests the strength of the backlash.

But we give Facebook our information every day. It has our photos, our posts, our friend connections, our job descriptions, nearly all of our personal details. We let Facebook recommend food, events, movies, even friends, all based on our profiles. What invisible line did it cross here? Two words: Action and consent.

Facebook’s suggestions for us are motivated by our actions. When we “like” something, we reveal our interests. When we “friend” someone, we widen our social circle to more potential acquaintances. When we attend an event, we expose ourselves to further new experiences. Facebook learns about us through our actions. Many people accept this information exchange because they are providing the details.

Consent is crucial to this exchange. We permit Facebook to study us. We are aware that it is using our interests and actions to paint a picture of our personality. We understand the rules of Facebook and consent to them by using the platform.

Location data breaks these two tenets. Users were completely unaware that the platform was tracking their movements. Therefore, they couldn’t consent to it. People could justifiably feel that their privacy was violated, as Facebook followed them without permission.

Location data also lacks action. People don’t choose from a list, interact with people, or attend an event. They just stand around as their phone sends out information. They’re rendered passive observers. Without action and consent, users feel uncomfortable with location data, making Facebook look aggressive and out-of-touch.

So what does all this have to do with event production?

Everything. Event organizers often find themselves in Facebook’s position. They want to learn more about their clients, but they risk crossing an unseen line of consent. Attendees often provide oodles of personal information to event coordinators, from basic email and home addresses, to interests, preferences, and hobbies. These factors can vary from event to event, but there’s one constant: Organizers know something about their clients, however insignificant it may seem.

This information, much like Spider-Man’s power, comes with great responsibility. Organizers can combine it with their knowledge of the venue, the content, and the demographics to sketch out a decent idea of their clients’ inclinations. They can use this data to adjust and tailor the event for incoming patrons. Some organizers get creative, tying social media and audience interactivity to the event, building a cycle of client participation and information.

But this is where organizers have to be careful. Attendees enjoy it when organizers cater to them, until they don’t. Look at Facebook. As we’ve seen, people got angry when the company violated an invisible line of consent and action. It hurt Facebook’s reputation, making them seem shady and untrustworthy. An event organizer could unwittingly do the same thing. A well-meaning planner could use their collected data to try to predict customer behaviour, or offer them a new feature based on their profile. That one decision could repulse a client; it could violate the line.

With great power comes great responsibility

Where is the line? What do people tolerate and reject when it comes to action and consent? Nearly impossible to say. But it’s not hopeless. Organizers should not fear innovation; they should embrace it. They need to remain vigilant and conscious of how their clients might feel about a new development. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if a company used my personal information to improve my experience?” Your answer should inform your experience.

Guest author

Sean Mott
Communications Specialist at Watzan, a Halifax-based tech company that has an app that combines social media and CRM for shopping and live events. You can follow Sean at twitter.com/realseanmott.


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