The current imbroglio involving Facebook was bound to happen. The company is being criticized for violating the privacy of thousands of it users in the US and abroad. There are two principal issues at play.
First, Facebook did not properly inform users that their personal information could be shared with third parties. The second is the incomprehensible desire of Facebook users to pour their hearts out regarding every aspect of their private lives in posts on the site. This could lead to serious issues if the information falls into the wrong hands.
Facebook offers information to companies that are constantly searching for data that predicts the behavior of consumers, voters or whomever.
For instance if data determines that people living in Minnesota have a preference for the color blue, an automobile company might be interested. It could begin to use more blue automobiles in its advertising in Minnesota to increase sales.
Analytics companies determine preferences of large groups of consumers that are then targeted by consumer products companies. Politicians also retain these companies. The data provided by Facebook might indicate that voters in a city are partial to educational issues. If there were turmoil in a citywide school district, the analytics company would be sure to tell a candidate for local office to emphasize this issue in public comments.
The Trump campaign received information from Facebook through an analytics intermediary. There was nothing illegal or unethical about acquiring such data, so long as no one’s privacy was being invaded. The question is whether Facebook clearly indicated that personal information might be used in a political campaign to sway voters.
From the beginning of the Facebook era many skeptics have wondered why individuals would post very private information on the site. Disreputable characters and predators could use information about your lifestyle, where you live, where you vacation and where your children go to school for nefarious purposes.
The assortment of shady individuals is infinite. Every thing from burglary to identity theft could be in play. Yet, to score a high number of “likes” from friends has driven users to reveal too much.
When this questionable activity actually results in a problem, the same people who posted information will complain that their privacy has been violated.
The Facebook business is harmless in a general sense. People form groups on line and share their lives with friends and acquaintances. They try to show that they are interesting, happy, prosperous and cool. This is typical human behavior. But, there are risks and bad people waiting in the weeds to take advantage of unsuspecting Facebook users.
Facebook earns a lot of money by providing data to third parties who slice and dice the information. They look for trends and preferences that can be use to make money and/or influence people (like voters). It’s important that Facebook subscribers understand that their personal information is valuable to Facebook and its business clients, and they are giving it away without being compensated.
Can this trend create huge problems prospectively? We will find out because Congress is going to investigate and ultimately try to regulate companies that disseminate personal data (Google, Instagram and Twitter). It will be interesting to see if Facebook users will continue to post private information after hearing about all the perils of doing so.