With today’s technology we can use the internet to connect with relatives and friends from around the world or do some shopping online without leaving the comfort of your own home. Technology has come a long way over the last couple of years. Billions of people around the world are connected to the internet through phones, tablets, and computers. There are tons of free social media platforms out there that allow users to post and share precious memories for loved ones to view. But what’s the catch? Why is this free? How are these companies making money? Keep listening to find out more.
From Scratch Media this is A Matter of Opinion, your guide through opinion to the facts. I’m Parker Martin, and today we’re talking about The Spy in Your Pocket.
If you’re like me, who loves browsing the internet looking at memes all day, then you may have heard the jokes about how the FBI is watching us through our webcam and tracking everything we do online. Even though this hasn’t been proven to be true, there still may be someone tracking your everyday online activities. From the names of the people you recently text, to what your favourite brands are, this information is most likely stored in a database online. Without us even knowing, our smartphones and computers are collecting information about our personal lives. With new technology, we might forget that most things we interact with are connected to the internet in some way such as smart TVs, smart security systems, and even our smart watches.
(Suspense Sound Effect)
Let’s talk about Facebook. What is Facebook?
(Mark Zuckerberg Interview)
In short, Facebook is whatever you want it to be. It can be a social media platform that allows you to connect with people from around the world, it can help you create a buzz for your new start-up company, and it can even be your source of news if you follow the right pages and accounts.
So with affordable internet packages being introduced to countries around the world, Facebook’s active user count has been rapidly growing in the past couple of years. According to statista.com, in the fourth quarter of 2018, Facebook had a staggering 2.32 billion monthly active users which is seven times larger than the current population of the United States, making it the first social media platform to reach 2 billion active users. You may have not known, but Facebook as actually acquired other popular social media and messaging applications that you may use such as Instagram back in April of 2012 and WhatsApp in February of 2014.
You’re probably wondering right now “What information about me is being collected?” or “Why is my information being collected?” In this episode I will be discussing the two different sides of this controversial topic. I will be going through Facebook’s privacy issue, and Mark Zuckerberg’s (Facebook’s CEO) defense against his actions.
Have you ever checked Instagram or Facebook and seen an advertisement for a product you are interested in? Like a toy for your new dog that you’ve been trying to find online but can’t find the right one. If you think this is just a coincidence, then think again. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked the question “How do sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” during his testimony before congress in April 2018, he simply responded with his very straight forward answer of…
(Mark Zuckerberg’s voice)
“Senator, we run ads”
According to Investopedia, Facebook has made more than 40 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 with eighty-nine percent of it coming from digital advertising alone. You might be thinking “How do you make 35.6 billion dollars just from running ads?” This is where the controversy starts. Facebook begins by collecting personal information from its users such as an individual’s shopping habits to places they have recently travelled to. This data is vital to advertisers as they can influence consumers purchasing decisions by knowing who to target first. Facebook knows this and will sell this information for the right price. But how do they know that this data won’t be used for other purposes besides targeting advertisers? They don’t.
Unfortunately, there has been a case where this data has fallen into the wrong hands. Let me introduce you to Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica is a organization that provides services to companies and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”. They claim to be able to combine behavioural science with an analysis of consumer information to identify the right people who organisations can target with their advertisements. They collect data from multiple sources, including Facebook, and their own data collection through polls.
Why do I need to know this? A whistleblower has revealed how Cambridge Analytica used personal information taken without proper authorisation from Facebook in early 2014 to build software that could identify individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements. So, they would monitor your online activity and determine whether or not you are eligible to vote in the US elections.
Former Cambridge Analytica worker, also responsible for helping collect the data, had this to say in an interview with The Guardian.
The full interview can be found in the transcript provided. So, it’s confirmed that this third-party company has been using Facebook data to try to manipulate people’s behaviour towards the US elections. Thankfully, because of this scandal, Facebook has now updated their policy agreement to help ensure that our personal data will not be misused and to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands again. When this scandal was first brought into the light back in March of 2018, Facebook had lost over 134 billion dollars in market value.
Carl Rodrigues, CEO of SOTI (A company who sells business software) and author of the Globe and mail article “Nobody is exempt from the impact of today’s ‘spy-in-your-pocket’ technology”, has given his opinion on the collection of user’s personal information. Carl had this to say, “We are only beginning to understand the damage this technology can inflict if allowed to be used unchecked. Do we really understand what we are disclosing when we sign up to social networks, fill out online surveys, use a mapping app or upload our photographs? There is a severe need for governance of data-driven organizations to protect the basic freedoms and security that our society is built on.”
Now that we’ve heard about Facebook’s scandal with Cambridge Analytica and what personal data is being collected, let’s talk about why Mark Zuckerberg believes that it is okay for our information to be harvested and sold.
We just spoke about Facebook’s business model and how they want to keep their service free to users and use advertisements to generate their revenue. Let’s rewind to when you first create your Facebook account. (Rewind effect) We start by entering our first name and last name. Then we enter our phone number and e-mail address, followed by our birthday and gender. Finally, we click sign up while avoiding reading Facebook’s terms and conditions because come on, nobody wants to read that.
What you’re actually doing when you sign up for Facebook is that you are allowing them to use all of the information that they receive about you for advertisements. It states in the terms and conditions that they can collect information added to your timeline, things you share on the site, keywords from your stories and posts, and things that they infer from your use on Facebook. When you sign up for the account, you are also giving them permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content which they can sell to companies and brands without any compensation to you. Crazy right? This can all be found under Facebook’s data policy when you sign up. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself at https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/update.
However, it is us, the users, who control what we want to share with the world, it is us who decides what we want to post. Nobody at Facebook is forcing us to post the picture we took with our friends at dinner last night, nobody is forcing us to share private information about our lives. We are clicking the “share” button on our own. When we sign up for Facebook messenger and the app asks us “Facebook would like access to your contact list”, what do we do? We click allow because it is convenient having your contacts ready to go all in one place. Let’s listen to Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony before congress.
When Zuckerberg was questioned if Facebook users will have to pay just to keep their data private, he told the senator no. According to Mark, we already have control over the advertisements presented to us. I have confirmed this by logging into my own Facebook account and searching through the settings. We can in fact disable Facebook’s suggested advertisement system. To some, this can be a win-win situation for both the user and Facebook. People don’t just use the social media platform to upload photos of their weekend, but some companies use the platform to connect with their customers for free. Facebook's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. There has to be some sort of payment from us to use their service, and in this case, Zuckerberg would rather have us pay through our online habits rather than through our wallets.
There are also several other ways that users can protect their identity online. First, you can turn off cookies. Cookies are just small amounts of data that are specific to websites, allowing them to present a page tailored to a particular user. Whether you are using Safari, Google Chrome, or Mozilla Firefox, there should always be a setting that allows you to disable cookies. Another way you can protect yourself from Facebook tracking you is through a browser plug-in. You can now actually use a plug-in to limit Facebook’s data tracking. Firefox has a free plug-in called Facebook Container, that lets users control how much information the social media platform can access. Lastly, if we really do not want our data to be collected. We can always browse in incognito mode. Every browser should have their own “incognito” or private mode that keeps your searches and online activity hidden from Facebook and other companies that collect your data.
Let’s recap. Facebook is a free social media platform with over 2 billion users. They harvest user data to sell to advertisers. Facebook has since updated their policies since the Cambridge Analytica scandal as to prevent user data from falling into the wrong hands. Finally, we as consumers should be more aware what it is, we are agreeing to and find out ways to protect ourselves. New technologies bring the possibility of great things but can also cause humanity harm.
So, after hearing about how Facebook really makes their money, I ask you this question. Is it okay for Facebook to be collecting and selling our online data if we already agree to their terms and service? At the end of the day it is your choice how to use the internet. Thank you for listening to my episode of A Matter of Opinion, this is Parker Martin signing off.
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.computer.org/csdl/magazine/co/2018/08/mco2018080056/13rRUxbCbmn
CNBC. (2018, April 12). Mark Zuckerberg's Testimony Before Congress: The Six Best Exchanges. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAgbIiQSzEk
CNET. (2018, April 10). Zuckerberg's Senate hearing highlights in 10 minutes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgI_KAkSyCw
Facebook users worldwide 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/
Government, T. C. (2018, April 11). Transcript of Zuckerberg's appearance before House committee. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/04/11/transcript-of-zuckerbergs-appearance-before-house-committee/?utm_term=.e9522fb9be81
Guardian, T. (2018, March 17). Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: 'We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles'. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXdYSQ6nu-M
Nobody is exempt from the impact of today's 'spy-in-your-pocket' technology. (2018, March 22). Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/nobody-is-exempt-from-todays-spy-in-your-pocket-technology/article38334720/
Scherker, A., & Scherker, A. (2017, December 06). Didn't Read Facebook's Fine Print? Here's Exactly What It Says. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/07/21/facebook-terms-condition_n_5551965.html
Sharma, R. (2019, March 12). How Does Facebook Make Money? Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/120114/how-does-facebook-fb-make-money.asp
Watson, C. (2018, April 11). The key moments from Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/11/mark-zuckerbergs-testimony-to-congress-the-key-moments