Despite the numerous memes of Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing with U.S. privacy regulators to explain Facebook’s use of their users’ private data and who has access to it, the public’s concern in the matter seemed to have only lasted a couple of days. Serious topics are often taken lightly on the internet. Some tune-in and do more research on the issues, while others find joy in only reading the headlines. There is a universal idea; especially with young internet users, that anything one puts on the internet will always be public, so they already expect their data to be shared. On the surface level, sharing personal data to provide advertisements that are specific to your interests seems harmless, but if you were to look deeper into the subject and actually think about it, it’s kind of creepy. Especially when that data gets handed out to third parties you’ve never heard of, doing who-knows-what with that sensitive information.
In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg stood before congress to testify for Facebook’s collection and use of their users sensitive data. Although, Facebook has been running since 2004, the privacy issue was not questioned until now. A political consulting firm, named Cambridge Analytica, was able to obtain private information of over 87 million Facebook users, without requesting permission. This discovery brought on a trend of worry and discomfort among Facebook users, and revealed that “private” data is not so private. Zuckerberg left the hearing with a few more memes to add to his fame. The result? Facebook incurred a $5 billion dollar fine--less than a slap on the wrist for a company that made over $40 billion dollars in ad revenue alone last year. As they always do when they get caught up in having to explain themselves, Zuckerberg and team answered by shrugging off the fine and promising that Facebook would fix their privacy regulations and practices in the future. Now, a $5 billion dollar fine may seem like a substantial way to handle the issue, but the next day Facebook’s stock went up by 4.5 percent, showing that billions of dollars equates to less-than-a-parking ticket for Facebook.
As stated above, internet users have become desensitized towards their data being brokered and shared. When we look up something on Amazon, it miraculously appears on our Facebook feed. If we liked a company’s picture on Instagram, suddenly it is the only thing we see on our timeline. None of this is new, but if you think about it, we truly do not know what aspects of our personal interests, web browsers, and plain old data we accumulate over time ends up. As widely reported, Cambridge Analytica had access to the private messages of Facebook’s users. The internet is confusing and the average Joe is unaware of the ins and outs of social media. Nobody ever reads the terms of agreements. And big social networks nod and smile and promise they won’t let it happen again--over and over again. It is easy to get lost in the memes and adorable cat pictures or posts from our friends and feel as if what we post is safe. The idea of personal data collection is creepy because nobody knows where it all goes, who can access it, and adding onto the creepiness, is that we are never really told when giants like Facebook are caught up in data breaches, how the users might be impacted. We are never told how the violations may do damage--we do not really know how the unintended recipients of our stolen data will choose to use it. Having basic knowledge that privacy is not guaranteed on social networks designed to advertise at you is important. Nothing will ever deter people from using their socials, especially in the younger generation who seem to want to share every aspect of their lives online, and that impulse to share is not going to change anytime soon. I am even guilty to oversharing online. The point is to not fear using social media, but to at least have an awareness of the surface-level of data sharing.
The time has come where users are tired of the underlying unknown conditions that come with their social medias. A new social media, called Emenator, promises to secure your data and to not cloud your feed with countless advertisements. Since we won’t stop using our socials, why not also support a social network that tells you exactly how they will protect your privacy?