Earlier this month, it was uncovered that Facebook users’ privacy was breached by a third-party application: British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Since then, paranoid users have been deactivating their profiles in a nationwide #DeleteFacebook movement, and government leaders and private citizens alike have raised questions concerning the ethics behind Facebook’s handling of personal security. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking responsibility for the privacy breach to mitigate the backlash that has ensued.
Amid all this controversy, it is discomforting to know that in a commercialized world, even our personal, private information is being used in the market; however, it would be foolish to overlook the immense benefits digital platforms already provide.
In the digital age, privacy is a minute concern for the teenage generation, the group tech giants are most interested in retaining. Thirty-seven percent of Instagram users are between the ages of 16 and 24, the highest of any other age group. Nearly 20 percent of Facebook users are also in this age group, with similar percentages for users up to 44 years old.
Social media users often try to establish a balance between keeping their accounts private while also allowing public users to find and connect with them. Most users have a public profile picture, many making the names of the schools they attend and other basic factoids public. More “private” information is often only visible to friends whom they have connected with online.
This is where the Cambridge Analytica scandal comes in: The company analyzed the profile data of millions of Facebook users after they consented by downloading an app that said their profile data would be used for “academic purposes.” But the crux of the scandal was that Cambridge Analytica was allegedly able to gain access to data of the app users’ friends as well, even though those friends never downloaded the app.
This is, of course, a huge breach of trust and privacy, as Facebook itself admits. But a deeper analysis reveals the same could still happen to your account details today, just to a much smaller degree. The Facebook profile information that we want to keep private with the exception of our friends can still be transferred to non-friends with the touch of a button.
The entire idea of private Instagrams, for example, is meaningless because after you allow someone to follow your account and gain access to your photos and “private” information, you have no control over what that person does with your information. Anyone who follows your account can distribute to your information to anyone.
What we can — and should be — objecting to is the storage of our data for monetary gain. We cannot be all that surprised that this takes place. In the age of print media, advertisers released unspecialized content to masses of potential consumers; now, buying personal data means that each advertisement is specific to a user’s interests. It is well-known that Google and Facebook store user data to create specifically targeted advertisements, and sell user information for advertising specificity.
For example, Amazon charges higher prices to customers whom they know are desperate to buy certain products. It’s a simple game of supply and demand, but thanks to our online presence, Amazon knows exactly what our demand is — and they can raise their price to just the right amount so we are forced to spend those extra dollars.
We can ask our government to increase regulation of these tech giants, but it seems to be advocating just the opposite. Last year, the Trump administration removed the decades-old, bipartisan net neutrality agreement, which specifically barred internet providers from adjusting our streaming services to increase prices for consumers.
The #DeleteFacebook movement, however, is a selfish response. It is a way of giving up and allowing Facebook and other tech giants to “regulate themselves.” In effect, it tells our government leaders that we are not interested in third-party regulation and that we would rather leave than see a solution to the problem.
Deleting Facebook, as the hashtag encourages, would be foolish, as it fails to appreciate the many benefits of social media: maintaining connections worldwide, organizing events and uniting people through a common cause.
Let’s not give up on social media because of this data breach. Let’s also not tell the government that we are willing to allow these giant tech companies to regulate themselves. Instead, let’s make use of social media’s countless benefits and pursue a fight to resolve the drawbacks.
Shauli Bar-On is a freshman majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.