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Instagram Direct: Your data, direct to marketers

Evan Schuman | Dec. 18, 2013
Instagram is going to let you send messages and images to small subsets of your friends and family. It's a clever way to get more of your data into the hands of marketers.

And, yes, Instagram is encouraging people to text away right next to these images. That's to help their friends put the images into context. Friends like Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson and the used-car dealership down the street.

But pictures can say a lot more than all of that. Unless the consumer takes the time to strip the photos of their metatags, smartphone pictures also reveal the exact time and place they were shot. Let's say that a consumer who lives in Atlanta shares a new photo with a friend, but the photo's metatags show that she's currently in Denver. It being 6:30 p.m. there, her favorite restaurant chain sends her a text, directing her to a store just five minutes away and offering 20% off if she shows up within 30 minutes.

The fact that smartphone photos reveal so much has actually caused launched companies that will offer almost anything to get you to send your photographs.

This all brings us back to Instagram Direct and helps remind us why Facebook dropped a billion dollars last year to buy the company. If anyone understands monetizing online ventures -- and the value of both digital images and relationship connections -- it's Mark Zuckerberg.

Note, for example, Instagram's post-Facebook-acquisition privacy page. I'll save you some time. It essentially says, "If we see it, we can sell it." Third-party advertising partners -- and, of course, anyone at Facebook -- are among those who are allowed to see whatever Facebook chooses to share.

Many consumers claim that they are concerned about privacy and limiting who knows what about them. And yet, as they participate in more of these programs, they unwittingly are sharing -- and giving permission to share further -- a huge amount about their lives. Once the data is out there, it can never be retrieved.

But given that the Instagram CEO tied this in to Christmas, I'll offer an updated version of a familiar classic:

'Twas the night before Christmas, When back at Facebook, Every VP was smiling -- at the data they took. The users were linked, by the friends that they chose, In hopes they'd be buying toasters and clothes. The targets were nestled all snug in spreadsheets While visions of bonuses went to social elites. And IT took that data, grabbed from photographs, And shared it with Zuckerberg, who smiles and laughs. I then heard him explain, just a bit Machiavellian, "It's not really Christmas if we can't be Orwellian."

 

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