I love Facebook just as much as the next guy. I’m logging in daily to see what my friends are up to, and I’m always sharing and liking the “good stuff” I come across while browsing the web.
I grew up alongside the internet and I even made the jump over from Myspace as the tides were changing. But somewhere along the line, the simple website changed from a hobby of mine to daily ritual. It was no longer just for fun- it was a medium for connecting to the world I know. As strange as the idea seems, Facebook became a staple in my life. It also happened to become important to the other 900 million users worldwide. In fact, If all the users were in the same country, it would be 3rd largest in the world.
Now in most countries, there are laws in place to protect the citizens and preserve the fundamental rights to the pursuit of happiness, freedom and privacy. For corporations however, their multinational nature allows them to cherry pick how they adhere to certain principles in different locations.
For instance, Apple allows their products to be produced by workers in Taiwan making a modest 4,000 Yuans ($630) a year.
If you’re wondering how that can be, it’s because that pay rate is perfectly legal in Taiwan and it happens to be far cheaper than paying people to do the same work in the United States. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. After all, the workers are free to work elsewhere on the open marketing, and it saves a few bucks on the price of your iPad. That example is the perfect analogy of the values conflict tug-of-war between different people in different places in this newly globalized world.
For online organizations, such as Facebook and Google, one of their struggles is with the balance between privacy and revenue. They have to protect their users or they’ll eventually leave, but they have to protect their revenue or they’ll eventually go bankrupt. Let’s not forget, that as a corporation, their main responsibility is to their shareholders and their profits, and they generated most of their revenue through utilizing the users’ data. If you like a post or share an update, they share that information to advertisers so you can be solicited based on your preferences. The data is a critical part of a 128 billion dollar industry.
When the data is sold, advertisers can only get to you through the companies and it’s expected that they never know who you are unless you choose to tell them. This entire process is expected to be anonymized. Though many companies like Facebook and Google say your data and identity are protected, that’s often just not the case. Consider the recent hack of Facebook and how someone bought over one millions users’ names and email addresses by utilizing a weakness in their application privacy. Was the data gathered illegally? Or was it just sold illegally once it was outside of Facebook’s control? I’ll tell you- It’s the latter. Technically, all of us agreed to let our data out when we clicked through those jargon-laced user agreements, and this is merely a side-effect. The blame is on the collective “we.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that revenue-hungry companies are cutting corners that jeopardize our privacy. So what can we do to solve this? I suggest that we as a society ensure there are enough incentives for organizations to literally guard the information with their lives. After all, it does no good to plug a leak after the fact- once the data is out there, you can’t put the cat back in the bag. Like it or not, Facebook is only free because the data is how we pay in this two-way street. That okay in my book, because what Facebook offers enhances my life and I’m willing to pay for it. However, I don’t like the idea that I’m just a hog on Facebook’s farm waiting to be slaughtered- when something like this happens, it hard to see a symbiotic relationship.
Now I actually happen to prefer the idea of targeted advertisements. After all, if the ads are there to stay they might as well know what I’m actually interested in. My main concern is protect of my identity, and what the consequences should be when my privacy in compromised. It’s my belief that the consequences should be enforced, they should be swift, and they should be severe to the point that companies aren’t willing to risk crossing the line. Today it might just be my email address being leaked, but what about my health records, my private Facebook messages, my credit card numbers or yours?
I think it time we set a gold standard on privacy, and make sure that there’s a universal foundation for each country to build off to protect its citizens. We’re certainly getting there, but in a world that evolving faster each day, we’re just too slow. The European Union has been doing an exemplary job of leading the pack with internet privacy and it’s time our laws catch up with the technology. I do believe people will opt into tracking via cookies and anomyzed data, but only told about it. Anything after the fact is purely unacceptable. If an organization stores information that is leaked out or is hacked from a security flaw, my trust as a consumer goes with it.
I have no problem moving on to the next Facebook or Google- I’ve done it before and I’m not alone in feeling this way. Now I know I’ve been overtly critical, but on the flipside I do believe that innovational companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are propelling out society. I think a world with more sharing of information and connectedness is a wonderful thing. And I don’t mean to single out Facebook either- there are countless examples of privacy leaks that have been much worse.
Big data comes with big responsibilities. When it comes to data protection, no one person or company will ever be perfect. As we transition from this current poor state to a better one, it may even be a very bumpy ride. All I ask is that as a society, we invent some seat belts for this new car before too many people get hurt because privacy matters.