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Home » Experts » When brands are wolves in sheep’s clothing

When brands are wolves in sheep’s clothing


Alejandra Morales talks about when brands are wolves in sheep’s clothing.


Alejandra Morales

Alejandra Morales

Project official at Compañía Desarrolladora Ferroviaria, S.A. Professional with experience in tourism, ecotourism, the environment, environmental management, cleaner production, sustainable development, conservation, corporate social responsibility, among other topics.

Brands: wolves in sheep skins (a social point of view)

A lot has been written about how Google and social networks like Facebook collect user data and use it. There are urban legends about how they can gain access to your device’s camera and survey what you’re doing; however, this is difficult to prove. Users of these services receive the free chance to join these ever more present networks.

Let’s take Facebook (translator’s note: in Spanish, the compound name is “the book’s face”, which is how the author’s son calls the social network): it’s a 350 million user social network, very popular, and free (and always will be, as its home page promises). The platform allows us to create a profile, upload photos, share links that we find interesting, send messages and stay in touch with friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

While browsing, the first thing that pops up is the prompt to sign up, where it states that it’s free and always will be. Where’s the catch? To sign up you must enter a first and last name, an email address or mobile number, a password, and a date of birth.

When we upload this information to Facebook, unknowingly we are giving away geographical and demographic data, when we “like” pages, that enables date and geographical targeting of the photographs and videos we share. This works for both the information we publish as for our network’s info. By sharing my location, the platform identifies nearby Facebook users and the news feed will share information related to nearby users.

If you’re a fairly social individual and don’t care about publishing your life online with acquaintances or strangers, it’s alright; everyone decides how to curate their image and what they share. This has led to controversy, mainly with public figures and with Guatemalan politicians what have been questioned regarding the trips and activities they’ve embarked upon, with public funds, such as the former vicepresident Baldetti’s sons; they are trolled through memes and photomontages. Let’s think of the case of the former candidate for Congress, who was running in the ballot by the eventual 2005 elections winning party, demoted when he published underwear selfies in his Facebook timeline. He could’ve saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d modified his security and privacy settings.

Through what we publish we provide search engines information about our preferences, trending topics and viral media, our location and –behold– even photos of ourselves, our families and even our dog.

Facebook, as well as other search engines and social media, use the renowned “cookies”, which are only temporary files stored in electronic devices (laptops, computers, iPads) where they are stored. What information do they hold? These tiny files are code blocks that contain a lot of personal data. Through a cookie you provide information about the computer you’re using, the battery’s remaining charge, when the session started or what messages were exchanged.

Facebook’s policies explain that all user information is collected to bring him or her a better experience. However, many users don’t read the fine print in the Data Policy. They collect our individual and network’s information, geographical withstanding, and (most importantly) all the data that we feed is used by third parties to ensure “a better service” and to allow us to receive the appropriate advertising and suiting content that should fit our needs. A “cookie” makes it possible for us to be identified. If you’ve made an Amazon purchase, you’ll notice that in future shopping the website will recommend similar items or recommendations based upon other users’ searches or purchases, in order to improve our own purchases. This also helps Amazon to calculate payment commissions, depending on who made the “virtual sale.”

No problem here. However, I believe many people provide information unbeknownst to them. While making this research I discovered that commercial transactions are available via Facebook, the ability to make donations and purchase items, while providing Facebook with my credit card information, for instance.

There’s a market and transaction area that enables users to publish items for sale or commercial services, to join groups with common interests. For example, I follow 1990’s rock and a bird watching group in Guatemala. I’ve found groups where I share my interests with others; thanks to the Principles that promote liberty, the published information’s standards and norms (held along a code of respect), foster the exchange of opinions and viewpoints in a global world.

Thanks to my feed’s events and which users my network suggests, I’ve come to learn about activities that entertain and interest me. My parents’ generation find it appalling that now people are invited to social gatherings through Facebook; you see, those who don’t check their Facebook account will be left out of the loop, the tea or baby shower.

My family and I had the opportunity to operate a toy store and we found in Facebook the cheapest and most effective outlet to reach our market. We set up the page for free, although we did hire an ad agency to create a logo and buy stock photography. Additionally, we had the option to pay for advertising in a very easy way. With the aid of a credit card we bought $50 worth of advertising for a specific time frame; we typed in our desired specific age and gender parameters in order to promote our business’s offers. What did we miss? The amount of people who found out about us via Facebook or through word of mouth advertising.  In the end, they were not $50 poorly spent. After all, there is no free lunch, we wanted information about our ideal demographics and we paid for it.

Twitter is a less popular network than Facebook, with a user base of only 58 million, and consists of an application that allows you to write 140 character posts, which can’t be edited, but can be deleted individually. It allows you stay connected with members from your network (your email address) and to share messages, information, useful links, photos and video. I’m a part of this “tweeting community” and I personally prefer this 140 character medium. It is also free and I believe that it makes it possible to engage with specific topics in a better way than through Facebook. The information travels “faster” and there’s more interaction. In my case, I use my name and photograph. Although, I’ve seen that other users choose their alter ego’s first, last names and pictures, which gives them more freedom. That being said, almost anyone can see what they post and comment, unlike Facebook where more personal information is published; there is also the Facebook Messenger tool for more direct information. Unlike Twitter, people in Facebook will meet in reality. It also has security guidelines and a configuration that allows you to block or mute users.

We should not forget that every action has its consequences, like the not that long ago case of a Guatemalan Twitter user who posted about a bank, which lead to such a widespread panic, that it even impacted through the proposal and approval of a Financial Panic Law [Editor's note: The Guatemalan Financial Panic Law actually precedes (2008) the aforementioned arrest, which was perceived as government censorship in a medium not widely adopted at that time: Twitter. The case was eventually dismissed].

I like Twitter because it makes it allows you to follow and public figures. When their account is verified, it makes us feel connected to our role models. The most followed users are:

  • Katy Perry @katyperry (77,335,737 followers)
  • Justin Bieber @justinbieber (69,206,366 followers)
  • Taylor Swift @taylorswift (13 65,694,692 followers)

The fourth most followed Twitter account is US president Barack Obama @BarackObama [used by his staff] (65,610,124).

It’s impressive, and I find that this medium has sought out celebrities to promote them and allow them to stay in touch with their fans. That’s how they learn about new albums, concert dates, etc. Hashtags are commonly used and are labels preceded by the pound symbol (#), that help give context to the conversation, they help cluster users by the use of the tags; it also works well with Instagram and Google +. They’ve become very frequent to create trending topics. In 2012, even the Spanish Royal Academy of Language even included the terms “tuit” or “tuitear” as terms employed or used by Spanish-speaking individuals.

The ability to set up a profile that is very different from our Facebook account allows us the option of being less polite or courteous, not unlike the case of the Secret app, which allowed anonymity when posting. It infamously was involved in several high school dramas, when students used it to leak “secrets” through that network.

The Instagram social network has a user base of 300 million that shares photographs and videos, with the option of using several filters, with a square format that resembles a Polaroid photo. Users upload pictures of their meals, families and personal interests. Hashtags allow users to find others with similar tastes. I follow and post photographs of abandoned urban locations and vinyl enthusiasts. Due to their social nature, it is also possible to organize gatherings like “Instameets,” which are essentially meetings where users join to take photographs and share user experiences.

All of these networks are free of charge and feed one’s ego by fostering the appearance of more “likes,” they should be used wisely, due to the very real phenomenon of cyberbulling. When sitting in front of a computer screen, a lot of people dare to say things that they wouldn’t in person. It’s a disassociation of reality. A lot of young people have set up dates in malls, have then disappeared or have been deceived by predators.

We are billions of users who produce, consume and create this “need” to be connected. As Noah Green states, “the ones who feed these networks are users. Without feeding networks, it’s only market research. We can be cattle; however, we are a voice larger than the Government.” In Guatemala we managed to make history and to call upon thousands of people and make our discontent be heard.

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