To begin with, let me tell you that I am no expert in social-media, artificial intelligence, psychology, law or politics, or even the inner functionality of facebook for that matter. I am putting forward my unbaised opinion based on the little knowledge I have in software programming and working of the internet. I have read a few articles and seen some footage of the hearing to make my analysis.
When I first heard about the privacy breach and subsequent hearing, I thought this is pointless. Users willingly post their personal information on facebook. Facebook never forced them. The only information facebook really demands is an email id. You can make an email id from any lesser provider which doesn’t demand any info from you, and use it only to sign up for facebook. You’ll never actually need to log into your email account; just remember the id and password to log into facebook and you’ll be fine.
The real problem lies on why you sign up and how facebook works. Of course you sign up to meet friends, find dates/partners, out of curiosity or just to fit in. To meet friends you’ll have to provide some basic information and pictures of you so that your friends can find you. Information sharing increases with more connections you make and before you realize, you’ve put most of your public life online. But that is the information most of your friends and colleagues already know about you.
And then, you unconsciously start sharing your private information, i.e. your thoughts, interests, political affiliations, your innermost secrets that you don’t even share with your family and friends. The statuses you update, check-ins you post, the pages and memes you like and share, all these information can be used for social profiling. Facebook uses this profiling to show you relevant ads and influence you to buy things that you wouldn’t have otherwise bought. Thus companies can manipulate your mind.
This was taken to a whole new level during the US presidential election campaign. Allegedly Russian bots manipulated the general public opinion by sharing sensitive and controversial content over and over. Facebook has a policy of showing content shared by pages to the number of users depending on money paid to boost it. Thus by paying facebook you can circulate your propaganda across the masses. In the recent hearing, Mr Zuckerberg revealed as many as 157 million Facebook and Instagram users received “disinformation” from a Russian outlet known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA). He admitted the group paid Facebook $US100,000 for “more than 3000 ads on Facebook and Instagram, which were seen by an estimated 11 million people in the United States”.
Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony hearing.
This problem of privacy breach in social media only came to light when Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, where 87 million Facebook users accounts were believed to be compromised. But our information present online poses greater threat than just being victims of political propaganda.
One of the senators put forward the issue that a user must pay facebook if he doesn’t want his info used and analyzed to show him relevant ads. Another commented on necessity of parental consent on exposing children to certain kind of content. Questions like whether facebook monitor our web surfing activity even after logging out of facebook, and what level of access facebook employees have over our data, were dodged by Mr. Zuckerberg. The committee pushed towards government regulations over facebook, which if happens, the US government will have certain level of control over every facebook user’s data.
Is that a good thing? Certainly not. Not even if control to governments are given country wise. Just imagine, facebook can recognize us with facial recognition. Facebook knows where you live, where you had your last dinner and which multiplex you visited last weekend. Governments will have complete control over private lives of its citizens.
So what do we do as users?
First of all we should identify the threats we are facing by sharing our information online. Not only in facebook, but across any online platform. Secondly, we should try to get out of our addiction to social media. Chamath Palihapitiya, former facebook V.P. doesn’t use facebook anymore. Read his views in this article. There is a huge psychological aspect in the use of social media, which must be addressed, or at least acknowledged.
Thirdly we should move towards platforms which provides more direct interaction among contacts. But even chat apps store our conversation in their databases. Maybe in future we’ll have more peer to peer communication between contacts, where conversations are not stored in any central databases. But with the rapid advancement of technology who knows if in future even our phone calls will be tapped and stored to be analyzed by A.I.
Well there is an old Hindi saying:
‘दीवारों के भी कान होते हैं‘
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