Facebook and Data Privacy

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Facebook and Data Privacy

Photo: Business Insider

Photo: Business Insider

Photo: Business Insider

Photo: Business Insider

Alex Broening, Assistant International/Domestic News Editor

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Facebook’s data-sharing actions have become the center of attention in the recent US news sphere with Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before both houses of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Zuckerberg answered questions ranging from Facebook’s role in the collection of data on users to the political leanings of censors purportedly working to limit propaganda and shared media from terrorist groups.

Interest in Facebook’s data sharing systems began with articles written by the Guardian and the New York Times that explained how Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting company, used data collected with the help of Facebook. Cambridge Analytica collected data on some 87 million users in order to build psychological profiles of the users. This allowed the company to determine how to best advertise to each user. Different people are more susceptible to different types of advertising, and Cambridge Analytica used this data to personalize the ads each person sees to do the best possible job of selling their idea. What many found particularly disturbing is that Cambridge Analytica collected information on people who did not give their consent. The app that the company collected data through not only collected information on the people that downloaded it, but the users’ Facebook friends, vastly increasing the overall mass of data accumulated.

Cambridge Analytica’s data collection raised concerns about data privacy in the modern world, a question that lawmakers focused on during Zuckerberg’s testimony in Washington. Representatives were especially concerned by Facebook’s system that put the onus on the user to change the security settings and minimize the data collected by Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s testimony left it up to the lawmakers in Washington to implement regulations. Zuckerberg did promise to extend the privacy controls for Europe, which comply with the European Union’s imminent data protection laws, to all Facebook users. However, some of Facebook’s policies still seem to be in conflict with the European General Data Protection Regulation that is set to become enforceable on May 25th.

Data privacy centers around the desires of the consumer, and as a principle medium of communication for MLWGS students, data privacy concerns about Facebook have been injected into Maggie Walker. Many students in Maggie Walker use Facebook for school, clubs, sports, and other necessary activities. Others use it primarily as a communications method, or simply as an easy way to check up on friends and family. And yet, many of the Maggie Walker students have been unconcerned by the use of their personal information, simply because they don’t understand how it affects them. However, these seemingly harmless actions actually help Facebook, or more directly, companies such as Cambridge Analytica to carry out their advertising. With better data on users, they can get better results from their advertisements.

By allowing this targeted advertising, we are giving up a measure of our freedom. Our freedom of thought and belief is based on the idea that we can make our decisions based on our experiences and what we see. However, if we no longer control what we see, we can be carefully fed rhetoric that was calculated to turn us from one idea to another.

Another reason people should be uncomfortable with Cambridge Analytica and the use of personal data is that people have no control over what Cambridge Analytica does with their data. Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign, and used its techniques to attempt to influence voters into supporting Donald Trump. Many liberals might be horrified by the idea that their data could have been used to assist a campaign they disagreed with. And while some lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about the political leaning of Facebook’s censors, they missed the more important point. When targeted political advertising is an option, both liberal and conservative organizations will attempt to use that information for their gain. Protecting data from collection without consent should not be a partisan issue, for both sides of the spectrum can suffer. Instead, lawmakers should make a stand to reduce the improper use and collection of user data.

Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to influence Facebook users and to personally tailor advertisements have been largely unseen until now. Such personalized advertisements often seem more like manipulation than persuasion. Over the coming months, lawmakers must decide how to deal with Facebook’s data collection programs. Hopefully, they will decide in the best interests of the American people in order to properly protect freedom of thought.

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Alex Broening, Assistant International/Domestic News Editor

Alex Broening is a sophomore at Maggie Walker, and is excited to work as the Assistant International/Domestic News Editor for the Jabberwock. This is Alex’s...

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