It might seem hyperbolic to use this particular phrase when talking about Facebook, but it’s pretty clear from recent news that we are in fact in an abusive relationship with the world’s largest social media platform and we are the abused. What’s particularly gross about this is that we opted into this dysfunctional, lopsided relationship, a point that Facebook clearly makes in a recent blog post defending itself against the most recent allegations of poor behavior: Android users of the Facebook apps may have had their phone numbers, call data and text messages scraped for years, including time periods where the app wasn’t even installed on the device in question.
Did we really opt-in to being exploited?
Unfortunately, if there’s anything we continually re-learn (and fail to apply the lesson) it’s that we don’t read the fine print and instead trust that other humans aren’t going to screw us over in exchange for whatever convenience for which we trade our privacy. The only one who reads these ridiculously obtuse service agreements are the lawyers and industry analysts (and then only some of the time) and only after the proverbial poop has hit the fan. Telling its user base that they opted in from the start does not excuse the fact that Facebook did this knowing full well that the majority would have no idea what exactly they were agreeing to, or if they did, they wouldn’t care or would forget over time, resulting in a digital version of Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever it is, it ain’t healthy.
If you use Facebook and are at all concerned about what Facebook knows about you (and your loved ones), you should take a moment to download your Facebook data and look through it. I reviewed mine and was relieved to find zero phone call, SMS or contact data, but this is only because when the Android Facebook app first started asking for access to my Contacts, I refused the permission and immediately removed the app from my phone. However, my data does include a variety of information I would consider sensitive including IP addresses, “Like” history and posts going back nine years, enough for an outfit like Cambridge Analytica (or any savvy advertiser) to build a reasonably accurate profile for marketing and propaganda purposes. I’m not upset about this – I knew this information would be publicly view-able and treated it as such. What was disconcerting was the list of advertisers that had my contact info: 280 companies, most of whom I have never heard of, and quite a few international firms, mostly European, judging from the names. And these were the ones that Facebook knows about. Very clearly, they haven’t been good stewards of our data given the recent unauthorized use by Cambridge Analytica. Considering how limited my use of Facebook has been over the nearly 10 years, this is likely minuscule compared to more prolific users. Review your data – you can’t take it back, but at least you can get a glimpse just how much of yourself you’ve been sharing with the world.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net