Is there a way to use Facebook without giving up your personal data?
Facebook doesn’t exist to bring the world together and create a community of users. Instead, its purpose is to collect data on users. Over the years, the company has implemented policies to allow users to see or control access to their data, which make us feel safer and more satisfied with our experience. The bottom line, however, is that Facebook still has our data and will use it to sell advertising. At this point, you are not protected from Facebook itself!
A user might be able to use Facebook and not give up any personal data but that would mean that you never post any content or engage with any content posted by your friends. The problem is that this not how we want to use Facebook. Facebook is collecting your every post, photo, like, comment, and share to draw conclusions about you. They are making inferences about you based on your network of friends too. Even data about the device you use to log in, your location, and other websites visited are collected. So maybe the best way not to provide Facebook with personal data is to not use Facebook at all. There are, however, steps a user can take to maintain some control over the information provided, and my best recommendation is to learn more about data privacy and review your Facebook privacy settings. Don’t forget that Facebook also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, and information has been known to be shared throughout these apps. This guide from techlicious is extremely thorough in providing easy-to-follow steps to protect your privacy when using Facebook.
The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal started with more than 200,000 users who downloaded and used a digital app called This is Your Digital Life. The data collected by that company was provided to Cambridge Analytica, who not only acquired data from the app’s users but also their vast networks of friends. In all, about 87 million users were impacted. In addition to the Cambridge Analytica scandal where a company that used an app called , Facebook also recently discovered that the site has been the target of “malicious actors” who found emails and phone numbers on the Dark Web and then fed them into the Facebook search box to acquire full names and other public information on the sites, such as profile photos and hometowns. This search function has been shut down, but Facebook estimates that most of its more than 2 billion users were affected. If you look under your privacy settings, you can see how you have answered the questions about who can look you up with your email address and phone number.
What actions has the U.S. government taken in response to the Facebook scandal? How much should the government be involved and intervene?
One of the bills before Congress is called the Honest Ads Act, which would require disclosures for online political ads similar to the ones we have for television. These disclosures would inform consumers about who paid for the ad, how consumers were targeted, and how much the ad cost. The act would also require platforms like Facebook to store all its political ads in a searchable database and also understand if a foreign agent is purchasing the ads, because foreign governments cannot interfere with U.S. elections. The act has been criticized on the grounds that propagandists will be able to figure out ways to still operate but not violate the law, and may even increase their use of fake news stories, which are not covered. Other federal efforts to address privacy issues have not gained traction. Knowing that regulation may be coming, the tech industry has moved to develop and implement programs to protect user privacy in an attempt to ward off possible regulation.
Zuckerberg has stated that he supports political advertising regulation and the Honest Ads Act. The company has already responded by requiring advertisers wanting to run an issue ad to go through a verification process and confirm their identity and location. The company has also built a tool to see all the ads a Facebook page owner is running, which is currently being tested in Canada.
Facebook and other tech companies should be held accountable for their lax treatment of consumer data. If they are compromising user data or threatening the proper functioning of a democratic society, the government needs to consider legislation that protects consumers and society. It’s not enough just to better explain privacy policies and provide user-friendly tools to control privacy settings. Tech companies might need to provide more transparency on specific interactions between the platform and data users, maybe even being required to ask for permission for each use.
What will Zuckerberg say in his testimony to Congress? How can we interpret Zuckerberg’s expanded political activities?
Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify about the Cambridge Analytica controversy before Congress April 10-11, 2018, marking his first appearance before Congress. In the aftermath of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Facebook sent lawyers to testify before Congress instead of its CEO.
Zuckerberg hasn’t been particularly apologetic since the 2016 presidential election. When confronted with the problem of fake news stories about candidates on Facebook, Zuckerberg said that it was a “pretty crazy idea” that the small number of fake stories influenced the election. The statement was based on the percentage of fake vs. real stories, but ignored the impact of those stories. At this time, the company did not offer any apologies and the leadership team felt that problems couldn’t and maybe even shouldn’t be addressed. He has also stated that the data the company has is because users chose to share it. During a recent press conference, Zuckerberg said, “So, first, the vast majority of data that Facebook knows about you is because you chose to share it. Right? It’s not tracking.”
Zuckerberg will likely discuss restrictions they have made to the platform since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, such as a change to the API that makes it harder to collect personal data, and audits of app developers to see what data they have already collected.
I would hope that he would take responsibility for some of the problems that have occurred as a result of data collected by Facebook, even if it involved third parties as in the case of Cambridge Analytica, and make a commitment to proactive user data protections instead of the reactive ones the company seems to be employing. His recent statement about Cambridge Analytica clearly spells out that he believes the company has a responsibility to protect data. Zuckerberg will also likely highlight all the benefits of Facebook and how being connected and sharing with others provides a more interesting and engaging user experience, which he views as ultimately more important to users than privacy.
Zuckerberg has spoken out about the need for regulation, but noted that it needs to be the right kind of regulation. Given that, he will likely drive the conversation of regulation and influence laws that make sense for a company like Facebook. The company has already increased their lobbying presence on Capitol Hill. The U.S. Congress is dominated by older people who are not necessarily tech savvy and likely don’t understand the complexities of a social media platform. Facebook can be a leader in self-regulation or by influencing the direction of regulatory legislation.
Some have said that Zuckerberg is preparing to run for President in 2020. It’s possible that his political activities have more to do with the impact he is seeing that Facebook can have on the world. He has previously talked about how to use Facebook to improve the “global community.” He has not only the wealth, but also a powerful tool at this disposal, to make a significant difference.
Which area of the world has been most affected? Are there other countries that rely on Facebook and its affiliates?
After the United States with more than 200 million users, the countries representing the highest number of users are India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and the Philippines. So Facebook is hardly a U.S. phenomenon.
In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it has been reported that 87 million people were impacted, and that 71 million were Americans. So that means there are still about 16 million users outside the United States who were impacted. Australia, for example, just launched an investigation into whether Facebook breached the country’s privacy laws after finding that data from more than 300,000 Australians may have been used without permission. Facebook is also facing an investigation from the Korea Communications Commission for the same reasons. New regulations have been passed that have specified how Facebook can operate in Europe, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Germany’s NetzDG. And the more recent scandal involving using email and phone number information from the Dark Web being linked to public profiles via Facebook’s search function may have involved most of the more than 2 billion Facebook users, so that’s definitely a global problem.
This upcoming year will see important elections around the world with presidential elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Hungary. Facebook must stay on top of fake accounts and trolls who post fake news. They have already had some success in recent elections, but it is a problem that might not be able to be completely eradicated, just managed.
Facebook has contended that they are a platform, not a media company. But maybe it’s time for the company to view itself also as a publisher of information and to take responsibility for the content provided on the site by its billions of users. It’s also time for users to realize that they aren’t consumers of Facebook, but actually Facebook’s product.