What we do know is that the public is now waking up to the fact that a massive amount of our collected personal data is sold to advertisers – without our knowledge. Basically, we are the product, and we have given these social media sites permission to sell…us.
Practically nobody who clicks on the Facebook data policy’s “Agree” button reads the full policy. But recent events, like the Cambridge Analytica debacle, have brought these policies to the public’s (and Congress’s) attention. Which begs the question, “What data do they have on me?”
I used the Facebook download tool to find out. The collection is impressive. It includes every status update I’ve ever made, every photo I’ve ever shared, every ad I’ve clicked on, everyone I’ve “friended” and “unfriended,” every device I’ve used to connect to Facebook, every word of every message. It is truly mind-boggling.
One troubling point for me is the number of advertisers who are unknown to me that have received my contact information without my knowledge. As Brien Chen wrote recently in The New York Times: “…there was a section titled ‘Advertisers with your contact info,’ followed by a list of roughly 500 brands, the overwhelming majority of which I had never interacted with.” 1
It gets worse, as another New York Times article explains: “(Facebook) not only harvests the data you share with the platform, but also collects information about you from the files of other Facebook users you know.”2
This extensive sharing of my information is concerning. Digging deeper into Facebook’s data policy I found this: “…we don’t share information that personally identifies you (information such as your name or email address that by itself can be used to contact you or identifies who you are) unless you give us permission.”3
Of course, we give Facebook permission to share this information when we click “Agree.”
Now Facebook is running ads saying how sorry they are.4https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wUQP/facebook-a-little-closer
I think they are mainly sorry that they got caught. And that America is waking up.
The entire media industry is feeling the heat. Many social media sites are rushing to announce new data policies and privacy protections. They are saying they want to be more “transparent” about what they do with our information. If they don’t act swiftly and convincingly, they may find the government getting involved.
C/net is already predicting government oversight: “Privacy experts say it’s becoming more likely that lawmakers will enact regulations in the US that borrow from the EU law, commonly called the GDPR.”5
I’m afraid the truth is that without an act of Congress to force these sites to change, the public will continue to happily publish personal information for all to see—unwittingly making themselves the product. And Facebook and their advertisers will continue to exploit us.
1Chen, B. (2018, April 11). I Downloaded the Information that Facebook Has on Me. Yikes. New York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/technology/personaltech/i-downloaded-the-information-that-facebook-has-on-me-yikes.html
2Porter, E. (2018, April 17). Facebook is Creepy. And Valuable. Nytimes.com. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/business/economy/facebook-regulation-privacy.html
3 Facebook Data Policy. (2018, April 19). Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/
4 Here Together[Advertisement]. (2018, April 29). New York, New York: ESPN. https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wUQP/facebook-a-little-closer
5Hautala, L. (2018, April 11). Privacy imported: US weights EU-style regulations to protect your data. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.cnet.com/news/privacy-imported-zuckerberg-hearings-get-congress-weighing-eu-style-regulations-to-protect-your-data/