Are you a Facebook subscriber? According to the company’s third quarter report, 1.55 billion of you are monthly active users. That’s a lot of people. But in reality that number’s a lie. That’s because whether you know it or not, we all are part of Facebook, every single one of us who’s online. That’s not an exaggeration or some crazy conspiracy theory. It’s a simple fact. Whether you are a Facebook subscriber or not, you are under the watchful eye of Mark Zuckerberg.
Here’s the proof. This month, the European Court of Justice, the European Union’s highest court, handed down a ruling that stops Facebook from collecting digital information about non-Facebook users. Wait, what? Yes, Facebook collects information about the online activities of users and non-users alike. Any site that has a Facebook “Like” button plays peek-a-boo with your private information. According to Facebook, that button along with the “Share” one are on almost 10 million websites and used 4.5 billion times every day.
So how do they get your information? They use digital cookies that latch onto your computer, tablet, smartphone―basically any device you use―and track your movements. Kind of sounds like a plot point in a James Bond movie, doesn’t it? Facebook doesn’t deny any of this either. In fact, the company used it as part of its defense, claiming it had been using cookies for five years without complaints so it should be able to continue now. Basically that’s like saying you’ve been robbing banks for five years so why are you getting arrested now? The simple response to Facebook is: “because it’s wrong.” Just because no one complained before doesn’t make it any less wrong. Facebook knowingly took invasive actions against your privacy and rather than get into a debate about the morality of its actions, decided to rest its defense on the fact that it got away with it in the past. That has little to do with your right to freedom, privacy, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are yours as is the decision to defend them.
How does Facebook gets away with it? Well first of all, in Europe it doesn’t. Europe has data protection rules that we lack over here. Ask Google and Microsoft about that amongst others. Those rules place privacy on the same pedestal as freedom and democracy. Here in the states, we also hold these same truths to be self-evident, but we lack laws to support the ideology.
Second is the sneaky way Facebook goes about its business. Facebook doesn’t tell you they’re collecting your information or that they own rights to the 400 million photos shared daily. There’s no “just so you know” email or pop-up warning you of its actions. It’s not bragged about at stockholder meetings. Everything the company does happens in the background, luring you into a false sense of safety.
There are 1.5 billion searches made daily on Facebook. The company keeps all of that information, but all you see is a search that leads you to find something. You never see anybody collecting your data. No one knocks on your door or takes control over your computer. There’s no impact in speed or reliability of your Internet service. So you visit your sites, do your odd and random searches, and peek into places sometimes that you’d rather not have anyone know about. That’s your business in the same way as should be choosing who gets to see the pictures you post, the stories you share, and the “Like” buttons you click when so inspired. That’s fun. You’re connected to the world, the people you care about and love. But you’re also connected to Facebook. They’re a third party looking over your shoulder when you’re online. Whereas your friends and family use social media to stay in touch, Facebook uses its wares to make money. There’s nothing wrong with making money mind you, but there is if the means to the end are immoral and creepy. Granted your life is not in danger, just all of your private information and actions.
Finally, there’s the fact that we continue to allow companies to get away with such actions. Facebook, Google, and others do what they do because it’s profitable and no one stops them. But that doesn’t mean we like it or have to accept it. Even those companies can see the writing on the wall concerning privacy. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has evolved publically from declaring privacy dead to making it a core component of his interviews and stockholder meetings.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook warns us about losing our humanity in losing our privacy, he means it. Nothing Facebook has done to date shows the same passion or honesty. Sure, Facebook claims it will take steps to stop collecting online information about non-users in Belgium, but with the company’s track record, why should we believe them?
The solution I offer is simple. Getting there is not. We need laws that protect our God-given right to privacy. We need to stop silently endorsing sites that betray our privacy by the mere fact of our using them. We need to support companies that support our freedoms. They are out there. For example, my company, MeWe, was specifically designed to offer social media under the protected umbrella of privacy. There are many other options out there. I think all of us can agree that social media has transformed our world. Now we need to transform online privacy so that the safety we believe we have with these services becomes a reality.
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