In the Internet Age, it’s often said that if you’re not the one paying for an online service, you’re the product being sold. This rings true for many digital platforms, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. As time has gone on, social networks have fine-tuned their business model to target advertising revenue by leveraging the extensive user data they have accumulated.
This has become a major issue in the past few years as concerns regarding data privacy and security have flooded the news. However, it has escalated to a near-crisis level in the past few weeks as claims that Cambridge Analytica, a British data analysis firm, had gained data of over 50 million Facebook users. According to Christopher Wylie, an ex-employee and the whistleblower of Cambridge Analytica, the firm used its data to stitch together detailed personalities and psychographics of American voters.
Cambridge Analytica was hired by the Trump campaign to allegedly develop micro-targeted advertisements to sway Americans to vote one way or another. To Wylie, Cambridge Analytica is a “full-service propaganda machine.”
The news surrounding Cambridge Analytica has raised severe concerns about just how much data Facebook is collecting, and where that data is going. And although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a public statement promising changes to their data security, little attention has been given to other digital platforms that do the same thing, including Instagram and Google.
These tech giants have easy access to your information, they are largely unregulated and share data across platforms. Amid such a grim reality, how do we protect our privacy on the internet? One answer: delete your social media. A #DeleteFacebook movement has spread since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. That seems simple enough, except when you remember that Facebook still has your message logs, data your friends and family share about you, and your lingering ghost profile that exists before you even sign up.
Another solution? Government regulation. But even then, involving the government is likely to bring many other unwanted “side effects,” like potentially giving the government direct access to our data. This is equally as worrying.
The point is – and not to be defeatist, but – there’s no way around it. Your data’s going to spread unless you choose to stay off the internet, never work on or around it and never put any kind of identifying information on it. Most social media conglomerates have based their entire business model on selling access to your data to advertisers, offering them essential information to target market segments. This is practically impossible to achieve so long as you safeguard your information.
And besides, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Remember every time those cute slippers popped up on the side of your Facebook feed the day after you finished doing some good ‘ole slipper shopping? That wasn’t by accident. We all knew something sneaky had been taking place.