I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the data use scandal involving Facebook. If not, here’s the skinny on it: a company was able to mine and use the personal data of 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent. The revelation sent the internet into a tizzy and forced many users, including celebrities, to delete their Facebook accounts.
Why is this a big deal? People don’t want companies using their personal information without their consent. It’s a breach of privacy. Sure, people are okay with posting information to sites like Facebook, but only because those sites (should) control who has access to that information. If you post something to Facebook, you hope that only your friends can see it. It’s all about trust: users trust that sites will share their information with only the people they allow.
Data use is a tricky subject. On the one hand, if you don’t want companies using your data, don’t post it. Some people put fake birthdays on their social media profiles for exactly that purpose (and to find out who their real friends are). On the other hand, the sites to which you do post should have protections in place for your data so it doesn’t get misused.
The problem is that “personal” no longer means “personal”. Every major site, from Google to Amazon to Facebook, analyzes every bit of data you put online to learn more about you. They track website visits, viewed and purchased items, and web searches, among other things. To these sites you’re not a user, you’re a commodity. Personal data is the currency of the internet.
The best way to prevent your data from being shared is to minimize your digital footprint. Nowadays, though, it’s tough not to put information online. More and more devices and services are connecting to the internet. Since it’s nearly impossible to live offline in today’s connected world, the best you can do is be wary of what data you share and where you share it. If ever you’re prompted by a site to give consent for data use, take a minute or two to read through and see what they’re doing with your data. Just keep in mind that, as is the case with Facebook, you might not be getting the whole picture.
Am I going to follow suit and delete my Facebook? No. I’m not okay with what happened, but I know that events such as this are the price we pay for being online. Like it or not, this is the world we live in and this is how the internet works. As the old saying goes: if it’s free, you are the product.