As I write this, my phone is sitting on the table near me, silently beckoning. It has a giant arsenal of ways to lure me, a thousand tentacles that hook into my subconscious and tug at my attention, poke at me, tear down my concentration. There are so many important reasons to pick it up: that email I’m waiting for, the weather forecast—will I need a jacket? How’s my bank balance holding up? Maybe better take a quick look at the news, to be prepared in case of another war or the next disaster. Almost any fact I want will be mine within a few clicks on Google.
Once I pick it up, it’s all too easy to yield to the temptation to take a quick look at Facebook, and then Instagram. And in what seems like a blink, half an hour has disappeared, sucked into the screen. More likely than not, I have nothing to show for that half hour except maybe a residue of rage incited by whatever Facebook selected to feed my brain today. That’s how it’s engineered, to keep me on as long as possible so I will be exposed to more ads.
Facing the Facebook Calamity
Last week, the nation got a rare glimpse behind the screen at Facebook through the testimony in congressional committee of former Facebook employee, and now whistleblower, Francis Haugen. The hearings told us more than we knew about the problems that have been caused by Facebook.
Facebook has come under intense fire over revelations from internal documents about Facebook policies that sow division by favoring incendiary misinformation over facts, and a number of other disturbing realities about the operations and strategies of a company that has 3.5 billion—not just users—members.
These latest revelations are just the most recent of a long stream of troubling revelations about how the company operates, leading to disasters such as the recent Myanmar genocide that was powered by Facebook, and a whole string of other calamitous events with Facebook’s fingerprints on them.
The myriad ways that Facebook can be and has been used by what we euphemistically call “bad actors” to tear societies apart, or to recruit for Isis or the Proud Boys, for example, are too horrifying to even contemplate without the brain blowing a circuit breaker. But perhaps the most disturbing revelation of all was how clearly Facebook understood what was happening, but preferred to let it happen over the possibility of making changes that might cut into revenue. This is a company with a market cap of nearly $1 trillion.
A Different Approach to Internet Marketing
The same week of Francis Haugen, I spoke to Dan Sullivan IV, who is one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of internet privacy, and certainly the most passionate.
Dan Sullivan IV is the son of the Dan Sullivan who is chairman of Collette Vacations, one of the world’s largest tour operators. After working within the company for 15 years, the younger Dan Sullivan left Collette in 2016 to pursue his passion in the tech industry. Today he’s the enterprise sales director for Wyng, a company that is all about personal privacy on the internet.
Sullivan sums up Wyng as “an up-and-coming company in the marketing technology sector that is trying to bring privacy back, believes that privacy should be first, not last, and believes that trust is paramount with consumers.”
Wyng provides systems for companies to build personalized marketing profiles on their customers. But unlike what has become standard internet marketing, the Wyng system does not rely on tracking customers’ activities on the web without their knowing it.
“We believe in transparency,” he said. “We believe these companies should be transparent with their consumers. That’s how they’ll build trust. As they build trust they’re going to be able to build better lifetime value, and going to be able to turn around a much better personalized experience that consumers want.”
Wyng’s method of compiling data on consumers is straightforward. It asks them.
“Wyng is helping companies collect what’s called zero party data,” said Sullivan. “That’s the special sauce. The difference is we’re asking questions to the person on the site, to get to know them. That person is answering those questions, giving those answers willingly and knowingly. So, if you’re a major cruise line or hotel chain and somebody’s coming to the website, you can ask any questions about what you want to know. Are you a travel agent? a consumer? What kind of vacation are you looking for? Sun and fun in the Caribbean? Or culture in cities in Europe?”
Facebook’s Dark Side
Not surprisingly, Dan Sullivan was highly aware of the hearings and the Facebook issues. Facebook is another thing he is passionate about—negatively. It connects back to privacy. He sees Facebook as the mega-abuser of the privacy rights of its users.
Facebook’s dark history in regard to privacy is summarized in this well-known meme: “If you’re not paying for the service, you’re not the user, you’re the product.”
Facebook sells you, your screen time, to advertisers. Sullivan was once an avid Facebook user, but he quit, four years ago, he said, “because they became so morally bankrupt.”
As Francis Haugen made clear, Facebook makes more money with misinformation than with facts. Inciting rage keeps users more engaged than sharing family photos. It’s all about keeping you glued to the screen as long as possible in order to expose you to more ads and generate more ad revenue.
“Now we’re seeing all the results, all the hatred, division and misinformation,” Sullivan said.
Tracking the Wild Consumer
Facebook can sell its advertisers carefully qualified consumer eyes because of the huge amount of data it amasses on its billions of users.
And, said Sullivan, “It’s almost always unbeknownst to people because Facebook is watching what people do through cookies, first- and third-party cookies. People have no idea that this information was being amassed on them, and then turned around and marketed on them.”
First party cookies track every move you make on a particular site. Third party cookies allow companies to track everything you do anywhere on the internet.
A recent battle between Apple and Facebook laid bare what Sullivan calls Facebook’s moral bankruptcy.
When Apple added a feature to the iPhone’s operating system to alert you when companies like Facebook are tracking you, and to require your permission, Facebook flew into a tirade.
The change to the iPhone operating system went right to the heart of Facebook’s business model. Facebook launched a huge advertising campaign stating that Apple’s new policy would undermine small businesses that advertise on Facebook.
“What happened between Apple and Facebook made it crystal clear how morally bankrupt Facebook truly is,” said Sullivan. “Apple didn’t want to take Facebook’s ability to track you away, they simply wanted to give people the choice. Facebook didn’t want to give the choice.”
Apple asked iPhone users, “Do you want to let this company track you, or do you want to ask them not to track you?”
But, said Sullivan, “Facebook said no, don’t even give them the option. That’s really what it boils down to.”
The Wyng Way
“At Wyng we are doing the exact opposite,” said Sullivan. “We are trying to help companies, whether a travel brand, a consumer goods brand or a large retail brand, anyone dealing with consumers, to help them personalize, trying to help them build trust with their consumers.”
At this inflection point, when the problems of the Facebook model are becoming clearer to those outside the company, it may be that Wyng has come along at just the right time. The company already has high profile clients such as Estee Lauder, Revlon, and Disney.
Wyng may point to the way of the future, even as it points to a past when marketing was more above board.
*Editor’s Note: There were two corrections to this article post-publication. 1) Facebook’s market cap from $3 trillion to $1 trillion. 2) NBC Universal was inaccurately reported as working with Wyng. Thank you.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.