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Is a discount worth giving up your online privacy?

  • Hemu Nigam is an online security expert
  • He says Facebook's partnership with Target, which offers special deals to its users, can be enticing
  • But is a discount on cleaning supplies worth waiving some of your privacy on Facebook?
Is a discount worth giving up your online privacy?
Hemu Nigam

Editor’s note: Hemu Nigam is the founder and CEO of SSP Blue, an online security firm. He is on Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook continues to dominate the social media sphere. Relying on its innovative combination of accessibility and technical genius, Facebook connects friends across the globe and provides valuable advertising for individuals and companies looking to update consumers about business offerings. With such mass appeal, it stands to reason that large corporations like Target are cashing in on Facebook’s marketing superpowers to blast user News Feeds with promotional offers.

Anyone spending even a few minutes exploring Facebook recently would recognize the numerous ads popping up on the News Feed. Facebook’s Offers service enables businesses to promote coupons within the News Feed. In addition, product advertisements appear more frequently as a result of Facebook marketing opportunities that encourage users to “like” items endorsed by a friend in the News Feed.

Earlier this month, the partnership between Target and Facebook took digital retailing one step further with the launch of Cartwheel, a marketing and advertising stratagem that allows Facebook users to select promotions and savings rewards and redeem these offers using QR codes or smart phones in Target stores. By accessing through a Facebook login, consumers may choose from a series of discounts. Once selected, the deal appears on the user’s News Feed.

Certainly, the offers can be appealing. Cartwheel presents users with serious savings on everything from favorite household cleaning products to designer bedding. With such extensive deals and marketing exposure, Cartwheel has the potential to become one of the most successful social media advertising opportunities in recent history.

Despite its appeal, users will be expected to pay a price for these discounts -- a cost measured in privacy rather than dollars. Cartwheel is designed to promote most selected items on News Feeds belonging to Facebook friends, which essentially removes the anonymity of the digital retail process and adds unsolicited advertising into an experience that many users might consider a sacred opportunity to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. That said, if privacy is the new currency, other Facebook users might see this as a great way to save money in tough economic times by disclosing their buying habits.

Anticipating privacy concerns, Facebook allows users to adjust their privacy settings to keep friends from viewing certain information. Target also allows consumers to shut off the sharing function in Cartwheel and prevents the display of some personal care items to aid participants in their efforts to keep purchases private. 

No doubt this will spark a debate over what is more important, privacy or money. As more and more people get used to it -- and online users always do -- this form of corporate advertising could become commonplace and, thus, more accepted. 

The path to such successes will have to be tread carefully and diligently. Using privacy as a currency via discount programs that are tied to your buying habits for all your friends to see requires proactive planning on the part of both users and advertisers. 

Ultimately, it is the users who will decide if the discounts are worth the cost in privacy and the potential annoyance to their social media circles. 

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