Columns, Opinion

Burke’s Bully Pulpit: Facebook and its users

Facebook has lost more than $70 billion in market value since the company first acknowledged the improper handling of users’ information by Cambridge Analytica.

Christopher Wylie, a developer for the data organization, testified that the company used users’ profile information without their consent to target a more specific audience with fake news and other stories that would be of interest. This is not the first time that personal data has been used in an election, with the Obama election team doing similar things in the 2008 race.

In the wake of this news, less than 50 percent of Americans polled in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said they trusted that Facebook obeys United States privacy laws.

At first I thought that it should not be of any surprise to anyone that a company like Facebook was allowing third party companies to influence their users. I knew that when I signed up for a new social media, I was giving up my right to privacy whether I liked it or not. I’m not saying this was the correct way to approach this, because everyone has a right to privacy, but when you willingly give all of your information away on a website, it’s bound to happen in one way or another.

I remember seeing ads on my Facebook during the previous election season that had an anti-Trump message. I thought this was normal, but it now makes sense given my Facebook likes and what I had written about Trump before the election.

The main thing that stuck out to me was the fact that Steve Bannon used to be the vice president of the Cambridge Analytica. The man was also the head of Breitbart News at the time, so his influence on spreading “fake news” to voters — who were supporters of Donald Trump — could prove to be a point of interest. There is no evidence as to whether or not this really happened because the claim of spreading fake news was only recently brought to the attention of the nation at Wylie’s testimony.

I recently saw that there was a way to download your personal Facebook data to see what kind of ads were being tailored for you. I discovered much more than I thought I was going to.

In addition to the list of advertising companies that were targeting me, I found a plethora of information that I definitely did not think Facebook stored. This included every single time I have logged in and out of the site, with IP addresses to match. This means that Facebook knew exactly where I was every time I used the site, even though I had my location services turned off.

Facebook also knows every event that you have been to since you created your account. I looked and saw that I attended a rendition of “Into the Woods” at my former middle school on April 7, 2011 at 10 p.m.

In addition, I found every single phone number from every one of my friends that I currently have. I know that I don’t have my phone number listed, and I’m sure many others operate the same way, so seeing this was very weird.

The whole experience was unsettling, and I feel like Facebook has to do a much better job on informing its users when they are taking down every little bit of their private information.

At this point, the company has no choice. Losing money in advertising and trust from their users, Facebook is going to have to reinvent the way it operates. I am debating whether or not to delete my account, even though I think it is a great way to stay in touch with those who you have not seen in a while. The bad is starting to outweigh the good, and it looks like Mark Zuckerberg is trying to run away from the problem rather than address it head on.

Zuckerberg recently refused the U.K. parliament’s request to be questioned about his company’s misuse of data. Instead, he is sending one senior official to speak on behalf of the company.

Social media has always been a little bit sketchy to me. Anyone can find you and pretty much everyone can see what you do, who your friends are and how to contact you. If I wasn’t planning on being a journalist when I graduate, I probably would have purged social media into a while ago.

Take responsibility for what you put on the internet — personal or not — because one day it could (and probably will) be used in a way that you might not expect and by a company you’ve never heard of.

 

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