So, anyone been on Facebook lately? In High School, I missed the MySpace scene. So when I first created my Facebook account during my Senior year I was pretty enthusiastic about having an online presence. Fast forward a few years you couldn’t get me to log on, but I slowly found my way back to the platform. Now, and for a while actually, Facebook has almost felt like an obligation, something used to guarantee people you never want to make contact with you can contact you pretty much anytime they want. Still, after a purge of those people you friended in jest or on impulse, it was a mostly tolerable experience. Then I had to hear the words Cambridge Analytica.
If you haven’t heard, Facebook may have a problem or two with privacy. Cambridge Analytica is a consulting firm specializing in Political Science, Strategic Communication and Data Analysis. The company did a lot of market research for a few 2016 political campaigns, namely Trump’s presidential effort. Cambridge Analytica, through Facebook, breached millions of people’s personal data to craft political and psychological profiles without user’s consent. That data was then used to influence those same people’s opinions about the election.
I’m not oblivious to the nature of Social Media: users are the product. They’re platforms for users to interact with others and explore their interests. The site sells advertising to companies who want to reach likely customers without much costs. The site then “personalizes” your feed and creates a profile of you, so those companies will know who specifically they’re reaching.
Still, this whole thing has made me dust off the ol’ tin foil hat. They had a hand in swaying a Presidential Election for what had to be relative pennies. They created detailed profiles of users and sold them without knowledge or consent. Contacts, posts, metadata from Messenger, birthday, your school(s), your workplace, metadata on phone calls and text messages, at least from Android users (2 points for iOS) were all used. Not just from Facebook, but from Instagram and Whatapps too, both owned by Facebook. That data wasn’t used to sell trinkets, but to manipulate their political opinions. It’s way out of bounds.
With the tin foil place snugly on my head, I began to do a social media audit: I checked all of my accounts for any sensitive information, especially Facebook. Turns out, I don’t post anything sensitive related to me, so I was content after I deleted all of my excess social media profiles (Peach feels like a long time ago. Remember Peach?). I now have three social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
Yes, I kept Facebook. With minimal sensitive info about me on it and Instagram, there is still more benefit to keeping it, for now. I have business to promote after all. Still, an already begrudged relationship with the platform is permanently fractured. As a paranoid user, though, I may have something to offer: advice on how they can get people like me back to the site.
Transparency -How about just be open with your practices? Seems easy enough. If you can give me a notification about some random friend of mine going live, you can give me a notice when a business or brand wants my information.
Consent – People should be consulted when their personal information is sold. It sounds like something that would have already been illegal if the Law could keep pace with technology. None of that fake consent that is buried in pages of policy and fine print either. A person should be able to know exactly who wants to buy their info, be given the option to reject the request and have guarantees they have options to halt the info usage whenever they see fit.
Assurance – Listen, there’s no way Facebook didn’t know how Cambridge Analytica would use this data. They’re complicit. Facebook needs to stay out of Politics and Government. Just don’t sell to any companies likely to abuse such sensitive information. Giving info to a brand that wants to target the users that Liked Etsy isn’t the same as a political data research firm.
Facebook will learn there are benefits for companies that act ethically and repercussions for those that don’t. Facebook lost billions in value and, to make matters marginally worse, people like me write about it. Just like with a human relationship, there’s a certain level of trust when it comes to giving a site personal information about yourself. Until I have some assurances from Facebook I’m going to scale back my presence on it and all other platforms. Hopefully, Zuckerberg will come up with a solution, but I doubt it happens without some legislation. Until then, the tin foil hat stays.