Social media has become a fundamental part of our daily routine. It is hard to imagine life without it. The reality is, however, that life did sustain itself prior to the existence of popular websites such as Facebook. As my dad might argue, life was a lot less complicated without social media. Facebook’s run in with the Austrian law on April 9 gives fuel to my dad’s rather fiery qualms with the way the website works.
Led by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, about 25,000 users are holding Facebook responsible for breaching European privacy laws. Allegedly, Facebook is operating in cahoots with PRISM, a surveillance program started by none other than the U.S. National Security Agency, by monitoring users’ activity with the “like” buttons. Basically, every time you like a particular page on Facebook, such as Forever 21, the site gains a better understanding of your lifestyle and your hobbies. Eventually they conduct a complex data analysis based on interactions that take place on the website on a daily basis.
The lawsuit reminded me of an article published by one of the founders of the online dating site OkCupid, Christian Rudder, in 2014, where he openly admitted that his site used user data to experiment on human behavior. For example, one of its experiments included telling users with a low “match percentage” that they had a 90 percent match. Surprisingly, although these values are far from accurate, users were more likely to send the first message when they were told that they were compatible.
The two incidents raise the question of whether or not it is okay for websites such as Facebook and OkCupid to use and manipulate private user data for their own benefit. My personal belief is that users are very well aware of what they are getting into when they sign up for Facebook. Although your privacy settings might keep your posts secret from your parents, they are useless against Facebook employees.
Now, I assert that if Facebook’s actions are indeed against the law, then it isn’t okay for them to exploit our information. However, it is hard for me to come to the same conclusion if their activities are in no way breeching the law.
When we get involved with any website, it’s common knowledge that we risk our information being used in a manner that we are unaware of. If this information is being used to our benefit as well as the company’s benefit, is it really hurting anyone?
This viewpoint is in line with the stakeholder theory, a concept I was introduced to in my business and ethics class. Whenever a business makes a decision, they must look at how it will affect everyone related to the business and must try to maximize the benefits that arise from that decision.
Of course, I am in no way advocating the misuse of consumer data, but it doesn’t bode well for active social media users to be naive and unaware of the fact that everything they put up on their profile is open to Facebook employees to see.
In the end, considering that social media is essentially used to share pictures and information with others, one might consider the lawsuit against Facebook to be hypocritical.
I agree with Max Schrems on the fact that there needs to be more transparency in the way that Facebook uses our data. Once consumer awareness increases, the public can exercise their free will to decide whether or not they want to use a certain website.