In Today’s age, social media has become a cultural phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Whether its Facebook, Snapchat, Friendster, MySpace, or etc, everyone seems to have entered the new age of social media; changing the way in which we communicate as a society. But with great steps towards the progression of social communication also comes great setback as they raise privacy and security concerns. With everything we share being one click away, what actually happens to our personal information? Is our data safe? Or are we being paranoid? In this paper, I will use Facebook as a case study to measure the amount of risk an individual takes when opening up a social media account by using various events and controversies; which have questioned the safety of personal information of users when using Facebook . Founded in 2004, Facebook was originally a platform set for communication amongst social institutions like high schools and colleges. But over the years, it has become the number one social media site as it gained momentum and popularity by paving an effortless way of communication amongst friends, families and co-workers.
In fact, Facebook has more than 1 billion active users with approximately 50% of their active users logging in any given day; with an average user having 130 friends on the site. Facebook is said to be the most influential platform in the world; so influential that it had a major influence in the 2016 US Presidential Election.In 2006, Facebook launched “News Feed”, which created and sent various headlines of activities such as pictures and altered changes in the user’s profile to all of their friends. Initially it was an innovative method of sharing information with friends, but with great concern it “automatically enrolled all Facebook users on an opt-out basis and lacked any controls over what information was shared or with which friends”. Hence, making relationships, photos, and conversations more visible. Initially, Facebook failed to install privacy controls but immediately, after global backlash were introduced to appease the public.In the same manner, in 2009, Facebook designed Beacon; which intended to provide strategic and directed advertisement on purchases or searched content of more than fifty partner sites and shared it with the user’s friends on New Feed.
In other words, personal purchases and searches became a public matter. Facebook justified the controversy by claiming it to be a favourable option for shoppers. However, it was exposed that Facebook profited from these companies like many social media outlets do. Additionally, Facebook tried to strengthen its hold over personal information by releasing a feature with a more limited privacy control to the system; which enabled users from having any control over their information. Due to backlash, Facebook discontinued this feature after being hit with a 9.5 million dollar lawsuit. Yet, Facebook currently still has a similar program which targets users to advertisements based on a users own searches rather than their friends.Similarly, when facebook launched its application platform, which enables developers to create third party apps (games, chat, and forums) users were required to relinquish and grant access privileges in order to use apps.
Personal information such as age, location, friends list, and publications became requested by companies. However, “the majority of these applications were given permission to take and access to far more private information than they needed as users lacked understanding of what data they were sharing”. When Canadian Privacy regulators investigate the various complaints, “they found that Facebook lacked adequate safeguards effectively restricting outside developers from accessing a user’s profile information, and called for technological measures restricting access to the information that was actually required to run a specific application”.
Facebook responded by restricting third-party app access to only the public parts of a user’s profile unless the user granted additional permissionIn the same manner, Facebook also permits users to share photos with their followers. Any user can initially upload and post photos to another user’s profile. When uploaded, users can tag another user; creating a connection by making private information like person, page, and location public. Users, of course, can remove the tag, but this will not remove the photo from being accessible to other users. In truth, concerns are mainly over the control of unflattering images that can cause embarrassment if the family, employers, and etc witness the images.
Currently, under Facebook’s “Privacy Settings and Tools”, Facebook permits users to have control over their privacy settings of uploaded content under 5 various options: Only Me, Specific People, Friends Only, Friends of Friends, and Everyone. However, these are only options accessible when the user attempts to change the privacy of their page as “the default” or “recommended” privacy setting for all content is Everyone; meaning users share their content with all Facebook users”. In other words, the very instant that a user creates an account; personal information becomes public. In conclusion, Facebook has a notorious history of validating user’s privacy. But like any other social media site, users are never truly safe from the developments created behind the scenes. Like many outlets, Facebook concerns itself more with the further creation of new innovations that will keep it relevant and profitable; without taking the concerns of its fellow users into consideration. After all, social media outlets themselves are businesses; who at times forget their initial purpose: to provide a safe service to its users.
The war on privacy is a matter that cannot be won without backlash/controversy from the public. But this just further proves the point that we as users are not safe in any circumstance. Time will tell what new innovation will further violate our privacy, but it is up to the user to be educated in the manner and for laws to catch up with the new age which we live in.