Social media—it’s the modern form of communication and a way to connect with people. After all, if you want to connect with someone, you just have to look for them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or some other form of social media.
But beyond connecting you with friends, these smart social media platforms also collect information about you—have you ever wondered how the ads on your page just so happen to be things that you like? Well, while you’re innocently liking a friend’s post or adding a post of your own, machines are collecting information about who you are, what you like, and even what you do. Social media companies like Facebook then take the information they’ve gathered about you and use it to better target ads at you. Clicked on an article about cars? Facebook now knows that you like cars.
But why are we talking about information collection now? Earlier last month, it was discovered that millions of Facebook users’ data were illegally used by a company called Cambridge Analytica to help politicians influence and manipulate voters. You see, it’s one thing to provide information to voters so they can make an informed decision, but it’s quite another when the information is manipulated to achieve a specific outcome. What’s more is that this illegal use of data has called into question Cambridge Analytica’s role in the spread of fake news throughout the 2016 US presidential election as well as how they challenged the democratic process. With such manipulation, were people really voting for what they wanted to vote for, or were they being manipulated to achieve a certain outcome?
Facebook recently apologized for the incident and said that they will no longer be working with Cambridge Analytica. But questions still remain: Does not working with these companies solve the problem of misuse of information, or is the bigger problem a company’s ability to collect information about their users in the first place? And furthermore, has Facebook made it completely transparent or easy for users to know what kind of information is being collected by them or how they might be tracking their movements? And although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he would try to regain the users’ trust, can users trust Facebook and other social media companies ever again? So many questions!
What do you think? Should a company have the right to track your movements online and use information about you to influence your behavior or sell you things?