Facebook is under fire, and it’s all for valid reasons. Users, as well as the U.S. government, are concerned over its handling of data. It’s always been a hot topic for the company over the years.
Things intensified in 2018 when word got out that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm, was exposed for obtaining personal information without users’ knowledge. Facebook then found itself responding to claims that it quietly logs calls and texts. Both are ongoing situations, and Mark Zuckerberg even appeared in front of lawmakers to discuss his company’s behavior.
Now it’s noisy. Facebook isn’t able to avoid talking about what’s going on, and that’s primarily because of the #DeleteFacebook campaign. Average people are seeing countless articles about deleting their accounts. It’s making them nervous, but listening to an onslaught of similar stories won’t solve anything.
The truth is that, when you sign up for any service that’s based online, you’re handing over data. Leaving Facebook behind won’t do much. Ridding yourself of other services won’t, either. Your entire life is connected, so you might as well embrace that yours is out there to stay.
Take out your phone, look at the apps. How many of them qualify as social media-related? Consider the apps that are made for communication with the public and friends, but leave out messengers. On my phone, I counted six which is probably average. Not once in my lengthy tenure of owning a smartphone have I thought about what any of them are doing silently.
We want to be in the know. Sure, most of my friends aren’t using Facebook as feverishly as we did in high school. But we are using Twitter and Instagram as much as teenagers. So I won’t be letting go of other apps, and neither will you. Plus, I need to know what my best friend’s great aunt and her friends are up to in their West Palm Beach retirement community. Facebook needs to stay, too.
The number that you counted before grows a lot when apps with profiles are added in. Well, that’s because virtually every app in existence requires an account or profile to be made at the start. These apps need to know who we are and what we like to provide better experiences.
During the Zuckerberg testimony, it was embarrassing to see members of Congress so perplexed by the way Facebook makes money. Bill Nelson (D-FL) thought it was preposterous that users would see advertisements for chocolate if they discussed anything involving candy but didn’t want to. Meanwhile, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) didn’t even know the company was running ads as the method to offer a free service. Something tells me it’s time for fresh faces to run for office, but that’s a totally different discussion.
Mentioning the logic of some lawmakers is important to share because I think we can all agree it’s laughable. Then you should probably find it laughable that people are angry over the fact that Facebook and other services know who you are, where you’re from, and what you like.
Advertising’s been around for hundreds of years. This is merely a much more sophisticated format.
Without running down a long list of companies, let’s say this: everyone does it. Facebook is free. Twitter is free. Reddit is free. Snapchat is free. So how do they stay in business? Ads, plain and simple.
The nature of those ads is also straightforward. An advertiser taps into a user base on a platform like Facebook and chooses who they want to target by age, gender, location, and other areas. On your end, Facebook is showing those ads because you’ve either liked something similar or have done a web search with cookies carrying over. It’s not an inconceivable formula.
Watch what happens when you turn off ads built for you. Your timeline on Twitter will be filled with ads for baby food and diapers despite you being a single 25-year-old living at home. Now the nonstop ads for McDonald’s and Clash of Clans don’t seem awful.
Again, targeted ads are nothing new. It’s no different than Viagra ads appearing frequently during PGA Tour events on CBS. The viewers tend to be older men; therefore, Pfizer looks at the network’s data and purchases ad time. In the magazine space, you won’t see a Harley Davidson spread in Woman’s World. Companies are running ads where they know their customers will be.
What I’m getting at here is that you can’t escape data collection. Alright, maybe you can. You just won’t. The vast majority of people with a phone, tablet, or computer are going to overlook the fact that they’ve hand over their characteristics and behaviors without second-guessing the implications.
Best of all, there’s an account attached to your phone. Is your solution to go off the grid? I don’t think you’ll do that unless you’re paranoid.
Apple and Google know a lot about you, too. Dive into your iPhone’s settings, and maybe you’ll be surprised to learn your location is logged throughout the day. Google does the same with Android devices. Both mobile operating systems will let you deactivate location-sharing, but then you lose dinner recommendations and nearby Tinder matches among other things.
Consumers like to feel valued, like their products and services are unique to them. Netflix doesn’t pull movies and TV shows out of digital grab bag and hopes you like what you got. It considers the actors, genre, length of the session, and a whole lot more. So it’s not like social media platforms are alone. Being connected means being tracked, whether that means to remain a free service or serve targeted ads.
Really your only option is switch to a flip phone and stop using a computer. Honestly, that’s not realistic. No sane person will drop their smartphone, and you probably need a computer for work. Now you see why the mass criticism against tech companies is hypocritical to a large extent.
Go ahead, delete Facebook. What you’ll soon realize is that it doesn’t mean much in the long-run. The only way to take control of your data is by going off the grid completely, and no one wants to do that. Our lives are reliant on technology now. From work to school to entertainment, we need to hand over our data to these companies. Time to just accept that.