Data privacy concerns do little to change the masses

Photo by Arif Wahid

In early March it was revealed that data firm Cambridge Analytica had gained access to the data of up to 87 million Facebook users. Since then, many have questioned the security of their online information.

According to The Guardian, it is believed that this information was used in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, leading some users to delete their accounts altogether as part of the “#DeleteFacebook” movement.

However, despite shares initially dropping more than 16 percent when the scandal surfaced on March 17, Facebook stock has improved in the weeks since. Additionally, Facebook recently reported that the website’s number of daily users in the United States and Canada has increased since the company’s last earnings report, indicating that not everyone is ready to delete Facebook.

“I already don’t use Facebook as often anymore, so the scandal hasn’t necessarily made me use it any less,” Georgia State health informatics major Yvette Gonzalez said. “However, it’s important to be careful about what you post.”

While Gonzalez isn’t necessarily concerned about whether Facebook broke any laws with the scandal, she still believes the company was wrong in how they handled user data and that there should be more transparency in online data collection on social media overall.

“Even though when you sign up for Facebook you know they can use your data, you don’t necessarily know what they’re using it for,” Gonzalez said. “I’m definitely going to be more mindful of what information I share on social media, especially since this could extend beyond just Facebook users.”

While Gonzalez doesn’t use Facebook much anymore, she does remain active on Instagram, which was bought by Facebook in 2012 and remains one of the most popular social media platforms among young people in the United States aged 18-24, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Despite being owned by Facebook, Instagram has remained unscathed by the scandal and is expected to make up nearly 28 percent of Facebook’s net mobile advertising revenue this year.

However, for some like Autumn Edmundson, a Georgia State anthropology major, the Facebook scandal has confirmed her long-held beliefs that the social media giant cannot be trusted.

“I deleted Facebook back in high school because I was tired of keeping up with this facade I was creating on the website,” Edmundson said. “Everything is so personalized from your cover photo to your profile photo, to your likes and interests and to your wall. It doesn’t feel genuine.”

Despite no longer having a Facebook profile, Edmundson is still active on Instagram. However, the scandal surrounding Facebook has made her more thoughtful of the information she shares online.

“When stuff like this happens it makes me reconsider using any app that asks for my email or phone number,” Edmundson said. “It makes me think about how vulnerable I’ve made myself online with the apps I already use.”

Instagram’s immunity to the scandal thus far has led to professional recommendations that Facebook advertise the photo sharing platform as a separate entity altogether to further protect it from the controversy still surrounding its parent company.

For Edmundson, she said the scandal is disappointing for users looking for a secure space to share their thoughts, but it’s not surprising.

“To a degree, I’m not surprised because Facebook has grown to be more of a media outlet rather than a social media platform,” Edmundson said. “However, it is disappointing that a company so large that so many people trusted let its users down. A lot of people use Facebook and Instagram as a personal blog or diary. You wouldn’t let people you’ve never met before read your diary.”

According to Dr. Chrystal China, a journalism and public relations professor at Georgia State, Facebook likely didn’t violate their user terms and conditions, but the company did act unethically in regards to user privacy.

“I don’t think Facebook would do something flat-out illegal,” China said. “Unethical, absolutely. But I can’t imagine they completely disregarded one of their own terms and conditions, because when large corporations are about to make a move that may be unethical they typically assess their liabilities first in the event that they get caught.”

Regarding Facebook’s chances to recover their reputation among younger audiences, China believes the scandal will soon be forgotten by millennials.

“I think the response to the scandal will be temporary because we live in a culture where we like to follow and keep up with others to the point of voyeurism,” China said. “This hasn’t affected how I use Facebook personally, although not because I love Facebook. I just no longer hold any illusions about my online privacy.”