The world’s most popular social network has recently come under fire for a careless approach to handling of user data. Facebook, a platform with over 2 billion active users, is now facing heavy scrutiny for a supposed leak of information to the voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica.
Though Facebook and similar networks seem designed with the user’s desires in mind, this is not entirely the case. What began as a straightforward social mission to connect individuals based on mutual friends and interests has transformed into more of a corporate scheme than many of us would like to admit. Though Mark Zuckerberg began Facebook as a college student, he no longer exhibits the defining characteristics of a startup developer. It is true that Facebook provides users with a means of connection, but at its core, Facebook has evolved into a business with clear financial and social goals. As users of the platform, we tend to ignore its underlying structure in favor of perceived benefits.
Facebook has created a haven for users to willingly reveal their personal information, from friend lists and geotags to things you may have mentioned out loud, but never searched online. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, even has constant access to a user’s microphone that allows the app to place digital ads based on spoken word alone. In fact, LinkedIn’s fastest growing jobs are largely associated with the fields of data science, language processing, and data driven development, which are critical to companies who seek to target specific individuals.
If anyone asked you on the street to provide the information Facebook already possesses about you, you would probably (hopefully) say no. Facebook, however, has created an environment where users let their guard down and, in fact, willingly give up private information about themselves. It is a site many of us check repeatedly, wasting hours scrolling through a feed that’s just interesting enough to help us procrastinate a little longer, and just important enough for us to forgo an in-person conversation. It has an addictive effect to which a massive population has fallen victim. That said, while security of user data should be imperative for tech giants, it’s also on us to know when to step away.
Following this public outcry, there are calls for Zuckerberg to testify before Congress, some even going so far as to demand Facebook be shut down. While shutting the platform down is simply unrealistic, regulation is necessary for massive tech companies to be controlled rather than given free reign. After all, these are companies that infiltrate our phones, media, and homes.
There exists a balance of regulation that still allows for innovation and advancement, but we aren’t there yet. Our society has put astounding amounts of trust into corporations that essentially trick users into giving up personal details, which are sold to other companies at drastic prices so those companies can more efficiently sell to us. It brings into question the ethical boundaries of data collection, which cannot be established until some form of regulation exists on the means Facebook uses to interact with its users.