I don’t have a Facebook account and I don’t want one. However, it amuses me to hear debates about how Facebook is destroying our privacy.
Let me explain: if you post things online and expect privacy, you probably don’t understand the internet very well. If you put information out there, people will find it. If you make your Facebook page (or blog or whatever) private, someone can still copy and paste anything you upload and post it elsewhere.
Offline privacy has disappeared too. A friend or family member can pop out a digital camera at any time and unwittingly shoot something that will get you fired or investigated or humiliated or divorced or disowned or sued or arrested or…
And then we’re all videotaped in gas stations and in parking lots and in department stores and even in department store dressing rooms. Didn’t you ever notice the signs?
In addition, your employer or potential employer can require an investigative credit report. This resembles a government background check, complete with interviews of friends, neighbors, landlords, coworkers, and other people you’ve known. Even if you and your friends remain prudent enough to keep certain information “private,” your boss can monitor you even when there’s no technology around.
Therefore, asking for your Facebook password only expedites a process that your employer could pursue in other ways.
And as we all know, these investigations always reach accurate conclusions. For example, the U.S. government found Edward Snowden trustworthy enough to be given its secrets after researching his past. Now imagine how negative results could wrongly damage a person being investigated. I’m sure it happens regularly. Facebook, Google searches, and most of the rest seem like they would provide insufficient context for the isolated data they uncover…
Unless the combined surveillance records everything you say and do.
So how else do people violate our desires for privacy?
Let’s start with the sale of your personal information. Do you ever wonder why you receive special credit card offers tailored to your specific interests, or catalogs from shops you’ve never heard of? Using your credit or debit card creates a sellable record for both the merchant and the card company. American Express constantly sends me credit card ads that advertise plane tickets as rewards. I don’t have an AMEX account, so they had to learn of my love for travel from somewhere else. I doubt it’s from following this month-old blog.
And then we have the less obvious sources of information insecurity. Did you go to college? Many universities sell alumni data to companies that are itching to know who might have the financial resources to afford the newest products. If you use a cell phone or GPS, your location can be pinpointed at any time. Web search engines can keep track of what you look for and so can your internet service provider.
The NSA also watches you.
And speaking of drones…
But I am not writing this post to defend Facebook. The whole debate over privacy strikes me as a giant distraction. Of all the ways you’re being monitored, Facebook represents the rare instance where it’s all your fault. You volunteer all of the information you put there and you’ve had ample opportunity to discover the consequences in advance. Moreover, you’re not depriving yourself of anything critical by not participating.
So why does Facebook insult my intelligence? Aside from the bells and whistles people love, it constitutes little more than a tool for businesses to conduct market research.
Have you liked a product on Facebook lately? Maybe you voted for your favorite reality show contestant or participated in a company’s online contest. Because you did that, the sponsoring companies now have all of your data without having to send out a bunch of questionnaires. They can track who uses their product, who isn’t satisfied, who their marketing influences, and where else they should be advertising.
Facebook doesn’t have to sell your information to businesses. You’re giving it away for free.
And when you like a product on Facebook, the business receives the best free advertising possible: praise by word of mouth. Businesses are getting more of this than ever before. If you have 300 “friends” and receive updates on all of their likes, you’re exposed to more advertising than TV could ever deliver.
But that’s not all! The folks at Forbes noticed that explicit advertising on Facebook vastly exceeds what you’ll find on other popular sites. Of course, Facebook gears this advertising to the demographic information and personal interests you shared with them. It all comes full circle.
Big Brother isn’t watching you. You’re watching him and you’re so entranced that he picks your pocket without you noticing. He’s the movie of the century that all the cool kids have to see.
Needless to say, my friends and relatives have tried to convince me to join Facebook. The reason they offer always resembles 5th grade logic: “everybody else is doing it!” And if all of your friends jumped off a cliff, you might be depressed enough to jump too. Fortunately, you can remain sane and happy by remembering the ever-present alternatives to jumping. That’s true online and in life.
Last I checked, I was not a lemming.
Everybody belongs to everyone else now, and “everyone else” is businesses. Fortunately, businesses are people too.
Oh, brave new world! 1984 was almost thirty years ago.