The privacy banana skin 

Users of social networks like Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly sensitive to privacy issues.

Everywhere I turn I see story after story about privacy invasion, hacking scandals and the most scary of them all, identity theft. The world is connected, and as a result so are all the bad guys.

But what about the impact on marketing, specifically digital marketing?

If the masses move into encrypted fortresses where data is transmitted back and forth with encryption keys sealing the data inside we as marketers are in a sticky situation.

Consumers will disappear off the grid, for good. More specifically we’ll lose the ability to be able to target them based on what they do, like and say.

The current agreement between users and social networks like Facebook is they can use the service for free so long as they continue to upload personal data to which advertisers can use for targeting.

It’s a relatively fair deal, millions of pounds a year is spent on server and staff costs in return for users submitting photos of their lives.

Facebook claw these costs back by charging companies a fee for advertising to their users using the data they’ve collected. 

The very black hole that is encryption

Imagine Facebook as a bright, airy room with people walking around with name tags on, freely exchanging information. “Hello, I can see you’re not in a relationship, let me pursue you across Facebook and other sites (using Facebook’s retargeting platform, FBX) and offer my dating app to you”.

Now imagine the complete opposite, a dark room, pitch black in fact, and the people are speaking a completely foreign language (jumbled up characters).

You’re trying to find one of them that is single and interested in “just fooling around”. Forget it, you’ll have more success with randomly canvassing. This is encryption, it’s like putting a blindfold over your eyes and asking you to try and accurately throw a dart.

How can marketers engage with users on encrypted social networks?

That’s just it, you can’t. If new networks like Syme and Fifteen take off – and they’re in the right place at the right time to do so – as marketers we’re going to lose the ability to communicate with our social fans and followers.

Sure, these apps/sites may encourage companies with Facebook-like pages and try and loop them in somehow, but they’ll still face the issue of not being able to access user data; that’s the whole point of encryption.

Admittedly there are different levels of encryption, but if the new social networks of tomorrow are really private, there will be nothing for companies to target upon other than an assumption. 


Marketers go where consumers hang out, and it looks possible that the relatively small number of consumers trying encrypted social networks could suddenly spike giving marketers a jolt.

My advice: keep your eyes peeled for the new breed of encrypted social networks that could soon to dominate the media.

Oh, and don’t for a minute believe that encrypted communications will be banned. The next thing they’ll ban will be whispering.