Much has been made of Facebook's decision to share with Cambridge Analytica, a research company that gave information to political parties during the last US election. Using information voluntarily shared by each Facebook User, Cambridge Analytica sold such information to different groups. These groups then tailored policies which supposedly was an advantage at election time. How was this voluntary information gained, you might ask? It was gained by people who completed various Facebook quizzes where they answered questions as to their knowledge, their opinions, and their likes and dislikes. Quizzes such as what Muppet are you most like and what animal is your spirit animal provide third party developers with a lot of information about us. Such quizzes were often designed to glean information about the individual user. This information was then sold.
Upon hearing the information that Cambridge Analytica used these quizzes for nefarious purposes, some people quit Facebook all together. Who knew that the information we share might be used by someone else? I don't want my opinions to be used against me. So they cancelled their Facebook accounts. No numbers will be released as Facebook guards that information. But personally I know a few of my old Facebook friends have vanished, and I can only assume that they have deleted their accounts.
I approach this topic in the following way. First Facebook is a great communications tool. With it, I have managed to stay in touch with friends from high school, university, and people that I have met since then. I am able to post this blog and have people read it and comment on it. I can share a bit of my life here in Australia to show my Canadian friends that I am still alive and kicking. I am able to find out the news as news organisations like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation post news stories there. I am also able to put in my two cents in regarding the issues of the day. Facebook allows me to advertise church events. Facebook does do many good things.
But I can see its draw backs too. For one thing, most of my friends on Facebook share similar views of the world that I do. It is like you are in a Facebook bubble. None of my friends on Facebook are Nazis or known sex offenders. Why? Because I don't know anyone who fits these categories or if I did, I would quickly drop them as friends. Reading my Facebook feed, almost everyone is a nice, kind of progressive person, anti war, anti gun, pro refugee, pro immigrant, pro diversity, who is not too judgmental- just like me. Oh sure my Facebook friends and I might disagree about a few things, but in general you would say that my Facebook friends and I are generally in synch. But there are Nazis on Facebook as well. Their news feed on Facebook is full of vitriol and hate. Their Facebook friends would support their ideals. And rarely does my world touch theirs. Facebook is flawed if we want to see where public opinion stands because the news we see is from the viewpoint of our own circle.
But the second thing about Facebook is that it has always been about the collection of data about people. I read the fine print when I joined. It said that any information I shared becomes the property of Facebook. If I look at an advertisement on the internet, I have already given Facebook the permission to show me similar advertisements- so that's why when I looked at computers last month I am still getting a lot of computer ads in my Facebook feed. Whenever I do one of those personality tests or knowledge tests on Facebook, I have by signing up for Facebook already given them the permission to use this data. The surprising thing about Cambridge Analytica is not that they had sold their collected information to political parties but that it took some 15 years after the founding of Facebook for the public to become fully aware that third party developers can use Facebook information for different purposes.
Armed with the information, that our information is out there and being used, we are left with three choices. One, we can drop Facebook altogether like a few of my friends have. But then we miss out on all of the wonderful communications tools that Facebook has. Two, we can continue to use Facebook like we always have. But then we run the risk of our posts and opinions being used by third party developers. Three we can modify our Facebook privacy settings and use. By tightening up our privacy settings on Facebook, third party developers will find it harder to use my information about myself and others. Also by not taking the "which muppet" personality tests and knowledge tests, developers will have less information about me. While it might be nice to know that I am more like Fozzy the Bear then Gonzo the great, I don't need to share that information with anyone else. Blessings.