If You’re Not Worried About Facebook, You Should Be

Richard Haas
Jul 10, 2018 · 4 min read

Misconceptions about data privacy are making us too comfortable.

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Mark Zuckerberg wants you to think everything is okay. Once he was done apologizing at his congressional testimony earlier this year, the Zucc made numerous unchallenged claims about Facebook. He reassured us that we have full control over our data, and, since Facebook is not a monopoly, we have plenty of other social media platforms to switch to.

The truth is, Zuckerberg knows most people are ignorant about their online privacy. He knows we all rush to click “I agree” without hesitation, and we will continue to use Facebook no matter how shocking the newest data scandal. Facebook is relying on the fact that the masses are ignorant and gullible, for it to survive. It knows that (as long as it remains useful), most of us are willing to hand over all our data, without knowing what this really means, or the consequences it entails.

Let me outline the key misconceptions about data privacy, which cause so many of us to feel comfortable about handing over our data. Because if you aren’t worried about your data privacy yet, you should be.

Even if you’ve never signed up for Facebook (or other Facebook products), Facebook will have some kind of record of you. So-called shadow profiles are created through those “like” icons you find all across the web, on news sites and more. You don’t even need to agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions or sign up for an account, before being tracked by Facebook.

You haven’t used Facebook in years? Many forget that Facebook owns Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus. Even if you haven’t updated your status in years, Facebook still has a detailed and likely accurate profile of you, which it sells to advertisers.

Facebook’s data trove goes beyond posts or location, though. By analysing your likes and interactions, Facebook can deduce private information you would never willingly agree to share. It does this with surprising accuracy.

Jamie Bartlett demonstrated this on a smaller scale in his brilliant book The People vs Tech when he visited Michal Kosinski at Stanford University. He gave Kosinski just 200 Facebook likes, and their system was able to determine a variety of personal information.

Some examples of information the system found out about Jamie Bartlett:
o Education: Studied history at university
o Politics: Liberal
o Religion: Atheist (If he was religious, probably Christian)

All of these predictions were accurate, and all it took was 200 Facebook likes (a shred of the actual amount of information Facebook has on its users).

Now imagine how much more detailed and accurate the predictions become as more data is put into the system. With a combination of likes, comments, messages and more, Facebook can reliably figure out details about your life and personality. This amount of detailed information gives Facebook incredible power to control and manipulate society (which may have been the case in the 2016 US elections).

During the 2016 Election, the Trump campaign hired a data company known as Cambridge Analytica to target voters. Through a combination of information obtained through Facebook and voter information from the RNC, Cambridge Analytica was able to precisely target new potential Trump voters with political ads (many of which have never voted before in their lives). It discovered links such as the fact that moms worried about childcare were a good target for pro-trump ads. Cambridge Analytica’s system also helped determine where Donald Trump was to hold rallies.

It was a new kind of political campaign. One that used big data to its advantage to micro-target specific groups of people with thousands of highly specific ads. This might explain why many of the polls prior to the election were so wrong. They didn’t account for Trump bringing masses of new voters to the polls with highly targeted advertisements.

The case of Cambridge Analytica shows the true power of Facebook to manipulate users. Facebook pretends to care about your privacy, but numerous examples show this isn’t the case.

We’re allowing social media giants to collect vast amounts of data (much more data than our government knows about us) whilst hoping we can trust them to not abuse it and manipulate us. Facebook has a practical monopoly on social media and it regularly purchases or copies its competition. The social media giant is still growing with over 2 billion users, and in many countries, Facebook is perceived as the web itself. It’s slowly becoming a monopoly and is facing little resistance.

We need to be more mindful of our data and understand the power of Facebook. In the long run, this could mean moving away from Facebook products like Instagram and Messenger. In the short term, however, debunking common misconceptions your friends and family have about data privacy could make them less prone to being manipulated by our data overlords. The more aware we are, the greater our power of resistance.

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