The revelations about the practices of the NSA and GCHQ collecting personal data via ‘leaky’ smart phone apps have propelled the issue of data privacy back into the headlines once again.

Fresh allegations have shown GCHQ showing off for the NSA by mining people’s social media profiles to a level of granular detail on what users like. The maker of Angry Birds, Finnish software company Rovio, has even claimed that it’s going to re-evaluate its relationship with advertising networks in an effort to regain its customers’ trust. However, marketers shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s not that people have an aversion to sharing this sort of information – they just don’t like it being taken without their permission.

Given the option, consumers increasingly use their social media profiles to log in to their favourite sites, including ecommerce, travel, media and education sites. New statistics from Gigya show that people are predominantly choosing to do so with their Facebook profile. 76 per cent of users who log in socially use their Facebook identities on ecommerce sites, while 59 per cent use it to log in to travel and hospitality sites. Facebook is also still the king of mobile social login, as 63 per cent of people use their mobile phones to log in to their favourite sites.

That’s because they don’t want to have to register every time they visit one of these sites, particularly when they’ve already got all their data ready to go at the touch of a button – and most people know that their Facebook profiles have all the relevant information they’d have to provide anyway. For marketers, each time someone logs in through his or her social profile they get a truly rich idea of the person behind the profile, and can personalise their service in a much more appropriate way.

However, that doesn’t mean that privacy is being violated. Privacy and personalisation don’t have to be polar opposites. Social login is a prime example of this – where consumers and brands essentially have a “virtual handshake” where consumers give the brand permission to use certain parts of their data in exchange for the value provided by more relevant marketing, a more personalised site experience or the ability to unlock certain gated content. This process has to be transparent, and current social network permissions actually do a good job of this.

The next time you see a social login button on a website, click it to see what the authentication screen looks like. It’s transparent and clear what the site is getting access to. While a few “bad apples” have caused the privacy and personalisation debate to merge into the same field, the truth is that most brands “do the right thing” when it comes to their data-use. Social login is designed to provide absolute transparency, which means that brands are accountable to the promises they make when asking users to authenticate via their social identities.

The concerns over these leaky mobile phone apps are very well founded, and action clearly needs to be taken, but Rovio’s chairman needn’t cut all ties with advertisers, rather give customers the decision over whether to share their data and a transparent tool to do so. Facebook is still the leader of the pack when it comes to social login and the statistics show that the majority of socially connected consumers seem to recognise that the companies they interact with are using their Facebook preferences and ‘likes’ to improve the service they offer them.

Consumers are happy to share their information, but they want to do so on their own terms, not simply have their phones leaking those details to an undisclosed list of murky organisations or to national intelligence agencies. The main objective for responsible companies in the wake of this news is to now provide consumers with the option to ‘opt-in’ to sharing their data via a social media login, rather than assuming they are happy to do so. In other words, they need to stick out their hands before they can expect people to shake them.

Patrick Salyer

Patrick Salyer


Patrick Salyer is Chief Executive Officer of Gigya.