There’s been a lot of commentary about Facebook selling data to third party companies over the past week or so. The distaste is understandable, but no one should be surprised. Just who do folks think Facebooks customers are?
There’s a common refrain the privacy community: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer. Or put it another way – follow the money. This article is posted to my blog, free for all, with no tracking. It’s tweeted about and also posted to LinkedIn, which both definitely track you (I don’t, but they do). If you’re reading it on the latter, you’ve probably been now ‘tagged’ as ‘Facebook, social media, privacy, LinkedIn’ and a bunch more. That information is sold to advertisers and data brokers – and that’s how those companies make their money. Both social media and credit agencies take as much care with your personal information relative to it’s value to them, not to you.
Social media is a powerful force, which is why I participate on certain platforms (selectively). It’s why I urge people to be very cautious about how and what they share – those platforms never really forget anything. Of course political campaigns want access to that information, and if they’re going to sell it to one side, they ethically need to sell it to both. Rhetorical question: would there have been as much outrage in the media if the data broker had been working with the Hillary campaign instead?
All that aside, no one should be surprised that this happened. That’s how Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the rest make their money. It’s also why I use Apple products when practical – while Apple collects some data, their business model doesn’t involve exploiting their customer’s data. I’m glad that the market gives me a choice – at least on the platform side. Right now though, there’s no option on the social media side. I’d like to see those platforms create a ‘paid private’ option, that allows access, but completely opts the user out from all tracking (even allegedly anonymized), but again, that’s their choice as a business.
I believe that information about a person belongs to that person, and that companies should only be custodians – not owners – of that information. If that were placed into law, it would then require affirmative opt-in consent before each and every time it was transferred or sold. Of course, that won’t really happen because it’d break the business model of most of the Internet. So what can we do? Something along the lines of GDPR coupled with a ‘plain English’ statement of how and where information is used and sold would go a long way, but even that will be hard. Maybe eventually our congresscritters will pay attention to the individual instead of the lobbyist. Until then, all we can really do is control what information we share, choose the platforms we participate in, and make sure you read the terms and conditions.
And don’t be surprised.