The Facebook Fiasco Lesson: Don’t let ‘big data’ steamroll human concerns

By at 2 April, 2018, 1:34 pm

by Susan Solovic-


How do you think Mark Zuckerberg – and dedicated Facebook employees – felt when they woke up one morning to discover that trending hashtag?

It had to be their worst nightmare, right?

In the immediate wake of the data-control controversy, Facebook stock lost almost 20 percent of its value, government officials on both sides of the Atlantic called for Zuckerberg to testify, and celebrities – including Elon Musk – publicly deleted their presence on the ginormous social media platform.

Zuckerberg has certainly made mistakes guiding the growth of Facebook, and his handling of the data misuse fiasco has been a lesson in how NOT to manage a crisis situation. However, I believe Facebook and Zuckerberg will survive – although I think the Facebook founder would be well advised to take a small step back from his position of absolute power and implement more conventional corporate board governance and oversight.

For business owners, the lesson here is to avoid what I’ll call “big data intoxication.” Over the last several years, leaders in both the public and private sectors of our society have become single-minded in developing their ability to exploit the inconceivably huge amount of big data that has become available.

We have heard political strategists of every stripe brag how they mined and manipulated big data to influence elections. They have been roundly praised and achieved the status of gurus able to wield almost magical powers over these mountains of data.

But in the process, they lost sight that at the bottom of the data are real people. And let me tell you one universal trait of human beings: None of us likes to be manipulated! Add shady data acquisition tactics to this and you get the toxic brew that exploded in Zuckerberg’s face.

One universal trait of human beings: None of us likes to be manipulated!

It’s interesting to note that, in some ways, the current anxiety over online privacy has roots similar to the housing meltdown. Subprime loans were lumped together in big lots to supposedly eliminate their inherent riskiness. However, each of those loans represented a real person or family; no one factored in the human element in either the risk or the results when the strategy failed.

Today’s failures in collecting and protecting “big data” have made consumers even more aware and angry at companies that treat them as nothing more than a collection of personal information to be vacuumed up and manipulated in order to enhance the power and profits of anyone with big money or big political influence.

Has big data become “too big for its britches”? I think the answer is yes and this awakening is a good thing. I don’t really want to see government regulations; they will be heavy handed and outdated by the time they are implemented. It’s really the job of business leaders to understand that their futures lie in respectfully establishing and nurturing human relationships – not in being the most clever at data manipulation.

When Big Data becomes Big Brother it has gone too far.

Big data is great for understanding overarching trends and observing the important movements within markets, but when Big Data becomes Big Brother who watches every move we make and spies on all of our friends, it has gone too far.

As a small business owner, you are in the ideal position to keep things personal with your customers and clients and let them feel the respect you have for them. Don’t allow yourself to be swept away by Big Data intoxication.

Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert and Advocate for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.  Her new book, THE Once Percent Edge, was released in January 2018.  Susan is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Top 100 and USA Today best-selling author, media personality, and attorney.  To learn more about Susan and the small business resources she provides, please click here.

THE One Percent EdgeRead Martin Zwilling’s review of Susan Solovic’s new book here.


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