Christian Stewart is a privacy researcher and reporter. Follow his latest coverage on YouTube.
Besides the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal, what makes Facebook the one answering the questions about data collection by big tech companies? Facebook is not alone as the internet’s privacy villain and other companies arguably collect even more information than Facebook. Here’s a look at why Facebook is taking the floor in answering questions from the Senate.
Mark Zuckerberg is likely one of the most recognizable CEOs in the world. Thanks to The Social Network, a movie about how Zuck founded Facebook, people know more about his story than any other CEO.
Other CEOs: Alphabet’s Larry Page, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are well known in the tech realm. However most people wouldn’t recognize them in person or know much about them beyond their position. Zuckerberg is an icon, he embraces the spotlight — even if people criticize his authenticity.
4 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily and are considered daily active users. Internet users can relate to concerns about Facebook because they use the service so often and have a deep connection with it.
Adding privacy protection to Facebook is something people can directly relate to and understand.
These policies, which very few users actually read, are a problem. If people can’t easily understand how their data is used, the privacy policies aren’t accomplishing their purpose for the users (only protecting the companies legally).
People are comfortable sharing content on Facebook. Whether it’s a photo of their family or a status update, putting this out there has become the norm for Facebook users. Because people perceive Facebook as a social environment, they are given reinforcement — likes, shares, comments — for sharing information.
Make your online presence work for you, not against you. Employers and admissions officers report that the internet can be a good place for applicants to present their talents, professionalism, and sociability.
Filling out a profile on Facebook involves making certain information about you public, at least to your friends. People don’t associate sharing information with Google or Amazon, by contrast.
Facebook says it has removed these targeting options, but prior to 2015 users could be targeted under the categories “diagnosis with HIV or AIDS”, “erectile dysfunction” and “binge-eating disorder awareness”. How would Facebook gather this data through its core products?
“Facebook can learn almost anything about you by using artificial intelligence to analyze your behavior,” said Peter Eckersley, the chief computer scientist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit. “That knowledge turns out be perfect both for advertising and propaganda. Will Facebook ever prevent itself from learning people’s political views, or other sensitive facts about them?”
Facebook uses its many apps and products to collect information about users and their connections.
Facebook’s Product Line
Mark Zuckerberg may be adamant that Facebook is not a monopoly, but the numbers don’t lie. There are companies that provide parts of what Facebook does, but none are true alternatives.
Unfortunately because Facebook has so little competition, they don’t need to offer transparency. And users have demonstrated that even if they would like for the platform to share more about how it works, they aren’t willing to delete their accounts over it.
The company owns Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, making it the biggest player in the mobile messaging market by far. Messaging as a market is unique because users rely on other people using the same apps as them to communicate. If a user wants to switch to a different messaging app, in most cases they need the people they are communicating with to also switch.
So Facebook’s celebrity CEO, it’s massive user base and its monopoly status, make it a prime example for the tech industry as a whole. Because Facebook is so ingrained throughout the internet and every browsing session, people can clearly see the effects of data collection. How Facebook responds to lawmakers’ questions will impact the future of privacy regulations for the entire internet and tech industry.
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