Knowledge is power. There is no better way to put it in this information age of ours. In our digital world, it’s easy for anyone to gather information about you if you’re using some form of technology. In fact, the more you put technology as part of your life, the easier it is to gather intelligence about you.
Contrary to popular beliefs, these people do not even have to resort to illegal means to do that. What you say or do online in the comfort of your desktop, laptop or mobile devices can easily seeped out in the public domain of the internet. This is especially true when it comes to social networking sites like Facebook.
Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has more than 600 million active users, making it the fastest-growing and biggest social networking site by far. Millions and millions of people log in to it every day, readily updating their statuses and checking out updates by their friends. If you’re not on it, you might experience some form of information gap from your peers who swear by Facebook to pass information. You would probably get to hear news of your friend’s engagements, vacation trips and their troubles and woes, but only later. In fact, their acquaintances might get to hear of them sooner than you could, all because your friends have added them as ‘friends’ in Facebook. If the Facebook privacy settings were in default, these posts will also be accessible to any strangers online.
It’s also funny how we all know that Facebook collects data about us and possibly share that information to third parties organizations without our consent, and yet we still don’t really let that bother us much. In other words, the things that we post on Facebook aren’t really erased even when we ‘delete’ them from our profile or wall; they are still somewhere in the cyberspace, perhaps available to be traded. Yet we continue to make our most personal posts, as if to repress such knowledge of privacy violation into our subconscious in a Freudian sense of things. Or maybe some of us think it’s a great idea after all, since we get information that is of interest and relevant to us, and not just random advertising junks.
So, these bring us to the question: Are we trading away our privacy for the sake of an awesome social network?
There are two key privacy issues at stake here. On the individual level, publicizing your life on the net, where all our posts and comments get into the open for people whom we may or may not wish them to have access to, doesn’t seem to be ideal. In the broader context, the mysterious data-mining capability of Facebook is a powerful and scary thought, especially when most of us are unaware of the actual extent.
Publicizing Our Lives
Although Facebook provide us with privacy settings, such that we can configure our account to only allow our friends to view our posts, I don’t think it’s sufficient to guarantee that your data only visible by people whom you want to. Well, it can never be foolproof when we’re talking about the internet. People can still tag you in their own photos (before you try to remove them), and that can be seen by their friends or strangers (if they make their profile public). Even if we make it a point to only reveal our posts to our friends on the list, there’s still and many ways for people to gather information about you. For one, they can peek into a mutual friend’s account and see what you’ve posted.
In the worst-case scenario, we may run into cyberstalkers. Cyberstalking doesn’t only implicates on your online life; sometimes it can very well translate to the offline world. For example the fact that some Facebook users like to ‘check in’ to places they go (your friends can check in you as well) or post their routine running routes via some mobile phone applications, they can easily be the target of stalkers. Such information, when accumulated and analyzed, is exceptionally useful for them to stalk their victims in real-life. It might happen to all of us, but it does happen to some unfortunate people.
So why do we post such details of our day-to-day routine? I suspect that the need to connect in a social network is far greater than a need to protect our own privacy for some of us. Or maybe we just couldn’t exactly see the seriousness of revealing private information on the net yet. Or we just discard the possibility that it will happen to us. Whatever the reason is, I think we should exercise caution and not divulge too much information about ourselves, allowing our privacy gets violated and end up in unforeseen troubles.
One of the complaints about Facebook is its frequent revisions to its privacy policies. Apparently, Facebook users aren’t please with the idea that Facebook share information with companies and allow third party application developers to obtain the same information. To appease users, Facebook made several changes to its privacy policies. At the moment though, the social networking site still collect information from other users about us and keep track of actions we take.
It remains a mystery how much information Facebook actually gather from us, but advertisements we see when we log in to Facebook seem strangely well-tailored to our preferences and needs. Facebook is a free service, so these advertisements are primarily where the revenues came from.
In my opinion, the scenario here is Facebook amass details about us such as our demographics, the things we post and comment, the way we interact with advertisement and analyze them to determine what our preferences are, so that it can figure out what kind of advertisements have a higher success rate of us clicking on them. With that intelligence, it is now able to effectively place advertisements that are relevant to us at any moment, contingent on our behaviors and interactions with Facebook. Using such a system to monitor users and position appropriate advertisements ensures better returns for advertisers, which in turn generate greater revenues for Facebook. It may not be the exact path which how it works, but it is still a highly possible process.
With so much information obtained from a massive number of users, Facebook is also in a perfect position to provide valuable market data for organizations. It possesses a knowledge that not many other organizations have, and that knowledge is its assets hence the speculation of Facebook actually sells what they collect from us and profit from them. Right now, you can tell that privacy is at stake because what we do in Facebook may be closely monitored, kept and passed on without our actual consent.
What I have provided here is my own theory and purely humble opinions of my own and by no means of malicious to any organizations. The information I have discussed about Facebook may not be completely accurate. Feel free to correct me if you notice any discrepancies in my claims. We would also like to hear from you if you have a comment or two.