Earlier this month news broke about Facebook’s latest in a line of scandals involving user data. This time, however, it struck a cord with many Americans due tho the connection with the highly polarizing 2016 presidential election. For those unaware, or needing a refresher on the situation, here’s a quick recap.
In 2012 a researcher at Cambridge University created a quiz that took user data of not only the people taking the quiz, but also all the data on people in their friend’s lists as well. In 2015 this data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, the research firm working closely with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. Then, recently, that data was stolen from Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has responded by banning certain things, saying they’ll crack down on others, and overall just attempting to save face after something they already knew about was made public.
Here’s the worst kept secret about Facebook, and the internet in general. If you aren’t paying for something, you are the product. The issue that Facebook is finding themselves in, is that they are playing fast and loose with user data, and doing things that many people would find reprehensible. As you can see in this article from the New York Times, Facebook worked with advertisers to block certain minority groups from being able to view information about housing options, which got them in major trouble. They have also worked closely with many presidential campaigns, dating back to Obama’s 2008 run, to release user data to be used by these groups.
We now see the #deletefacebook movement happening, with prominent Silicon Valley people like Elon Musk joining in, deleting the Facebook pages of all of his companies. Facebook has become a giant that is tripping over itself constantly, and I truly believe that rather than being a nefarious company that is trying to sell user data as though it is a black market, I think Facebook just improperly staffs the people it needs to self-regulate the content that it not only receives, but also sells to other companies.
Facebook, and social media in general, are not going away. It’s okay to be frustrated at data leaks, it’s okay to be frustrated with Facebook treating user data poorly, and sometimes even to discriminate against people. What comes next for Facebook, and the online marketplace, should be straightforward regulations about how user data is stored, used, and sold. It’s not going to happen over night, but companies will be forced to treat data better, especially with scandals like this looming over thier heads.