SNL’s Bill Hader explained it best during a sketch where he impersonated Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. The satire explains that Bill-Hader-as-Assange gives you the private information of several governments and corporations while exposing corruptions and injustices in the process, he is a villain. Mark Zuckerberg shares your personal information with third party sources for an enormous profit and he is Person of the Year.
Well, Time magazine rarely gets it right nowadays, but apart from the wry aside about editorial recognition, the faux Assange has a point. Mark Zuckerberg is, for lack of a better word, an opportunist. Who else would take the otherwise benign concept of social networking and turn it into the Walmart of the Internet? Myspace was not necessarily a spring chicken, and much less was the social networking arena, but one cannot deny Facebook’s rather monopolizing takeover of social media. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Myspace was always a bit choppy and other sites leave much to be desired but when a company like Facebook is willing to give out personal information that some (foolishly, I might add) believe is only accessible to those who want it to major corporations, there exists a major trust issue and dissolves the concept of privacy.
Granted, nothing on the Internet is sacred. Once you post it, it is out there for the literal world to see. It is mainly our fault for spilling our guts on Facebook but who could blame us? Often times one is met with a pestering notice asking for a phone number or where you went to school. It asks you for your email address so you will easily be able to find other people who have a history of interacting with you via that email. Isn’t that what Facebook was supposed to do, anyway? Connect us?
The thought of giving my email out and them prying into my email history (which I’m sure they have done, even without my consent) and pestering people I have emailed, for example family members abroad or former employers, sends shivers down my spine. It makes me feel violated and the physical response to this rather shameless acquirement of data leaves a wretched taste in my virtual mouth. I feel like I need an interface shower.
The technological puns aside, this is a very serious concern of mine. In the pursuit of creating a profitable company, Facebook has completely disregarded standard ethics in favor of their own rationalized and modified code of conduct that could be potentially harmful to everyone but them. It is vaguely dystopian. But it doesn’t surprise me.
Whenever I see a picture of Zuckerberg, I automatically think, “what a nerd,” the same way someone in the early 90s might have thought that way about Bill Gates, but he managed to win most people over with his philanthropy. Zuckerberg has also engaged in a variety of altruistic actions, including becoming a signatory of The Giving Pledge, however the end does not justify the means. He can’t help an ordinary person if he was the cause of their identity being stolen by someone who had purchased data from Facebook.
Which brings up the fact that people do tend to post their phone numbers, home and work addresses, education and location so freely that it is almost scary. How can people have such disregard for their own privacy? The only way to combat this overhaul of privacy is to not give out your information at all.
If you’re funny (I like to think I am; I could be wrong) post fake information, under the guise of a joke. Also, it is best to do this as to not give these slick corporations and who-knows-who-they-are third parties the satisfaction of being able to use one’s personal page for their incredibly unscrupulous search of data. Why do they need to know my information so damn badly? It is extremely off putting. How did they collect their information before the advent of Facebook? Do that and leave the explicit details of my life in peace. They are mine and only available to those that I choose to give to. This sharing of information is akin to having told a friend a quite important secret and him/her blabbing it to everyone or better yet, posting it on Facebook. Meta analogies aside, there exists a big problem that has to be fixed and it won’t be fixed by charity.
Another point that was brought up by Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) was that this plan could ultimately hand out the personal information of minors which could damage their futures. There have been reported cases of identity theft of children and that is just an awful beginning to your life, having to dig yourself out of a hole while your peers are just starting to dig theirs.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with this (so no one ever says I’m a hypocrite): I, myself am an avid Facebook user. Let’s not kid ourselves; Facebook is a part of the social spectrum and in it’s ad nauseum relevance, is practically a given. However, I don’t post my true information on my profile because I don’t know who can see it. I understand that changing your privacy settings is a viable option, but frankly, I prefer not to. The fact is, you don’t know how private this setting is and the Facebook company still has access to it. The Internet is like an early spring day. It’s always best to keep an umbrella and a cardigan on your person, just in case. That same prudence should be applied to your social activity, on and offline.