The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

What are we giving up?

Swapping privacy for convenience

Last month, news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a third party data analytics firm based in London, had gained access to the data of approximately 87 million Facebook users via an application called “thisisyourdigitallife,” which users volunteered to access, but which unbeknownst to them was collecting and storing data about them and about their friends.

The type of information collected by the firm was reportedly limited to a user’s likes, networks, and location–information that could be used to develop a profile predicting who a user may be inclined to vote for, which could in turn be sold to political campaigns looking to create targeted ads for users likely to favor their candidate.

The data leak provoked immediate outrage, resulting in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg being called to testify in front of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committee on April 10, where he responded to many longstanding concerns about privacy on the site. The larger conversation about privacy on the social networking giant seems to have evolved from the early, parental-like concerns about “stranger danger” to questions of Facebook treating its users as a commodity.

In 2017, Facebook reportedly made $40 billion from ads alone, the majority of which were targeted ads. Part of the “terms and conditions” users agree to when they sign up for Facebook allows the platform to share user information with advertisers, which then curate ads based on information such as age, gender, location, and “likes.”

Facebook has an intimidatingly long terms and conditions agreement, which the majority of users do not bother to read.

Aside from agreeing to Facebook’s sharing of information with advertisers, users also agree to Facebook allowing academic institutions and private firms to access user data in the name of research when they sign the terms and conditions agreement.

The inaccessible legalese of Facebook’s terms and conditions reflects the murkiness of what it is they actually do with our data outside of their purported mission of “bringing the world closer together.” Facebook, and similar platforms, operate in a loosely regulated sector that now controls an unclearly conceptualized “cloud” of billions of users’ personal data. Many users simply don’t understand what data of theirs Facebook can sell or give away, or what the potential long-term ramifications of that power could be.

Of course, it is probably not coincidental that Facebook’s terms and conditions are so difficult to understand; most people would probably not allow a tech corporation to sell their personal information to advertisers, with no monetary benefit to the them, if they understood what was happening.

Many college-aged students have been on Facebook for years; it’s become a staple of our social environments. At St. Joe’s, many student clubs and organizations utilize the Facebook events feature to promote their organization’s on-campus programming. Without Facebook, it is unlikely we would know when many events were happening on campus. Facebook’s Messenger app makes it easier to keep in touch with group project partners and people from clubs.

However, even one privacy scandal after another may not be enough to get our generation to stop using Facebook completely. Knowing that people can access basic information about us (where we go to school, our birthdays, where we’re from), may be part of the “new normal” ushered in by the age of social media. And even if we were to stop using Facebook, our dependency on interconnectedness and the convenience of apps like Messenger would make us susceptible to the next social media website like Facebook.

Facebook was one of the first of many social media companies to convince us to post our basic personal information online in exchange for keeping in touch with a wide range of people from all areas of our lives.

Most apps with a broad user base now include some aspect of social media sharing, whether they traffic in music streaming like Spotify, or in the exchange of money like Venmo. These services, unlike Facebook, are more utilitarian in their primary purpose. It’s difficult to find a college student now who doesn’t use Venmo to split rent payments or dinner checks with friends, in exchange for the record of those payments being visible on their Venmo profiles.

While Facebook may no longer be at the forefront of how we interact online, it has given us a new standard of online interaction that doesn’t seem to be going away. As students transitioning into a world that is increasingly technology-based, we may not be able to give up social media, but we do need Facebook to start becoming more transparent in what data it stores on its users, and to whom that information is given. However, we also have a responsibility to know how the apps we use everyday store our information; doing our own research is important for being active participants in a world of continuous technological and social change.

Facebook has a feature that allows users to download all of the data the social networking site has stored on them; we recommend you utilize this feature. You may be surprised how much data Facebook has accumulated from your profile, no matter how little you use the platform.

—The Hawk Staff

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Hawk News

Your donation will support the student journalists of St. Joseph's University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hawk News

Comments (0)

All The Hawk News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *