Deleting Facebook won’t solve all your problems.Image: NurPhoto via Getty ImagesBy Karissa Bell2018-03-23 16:23:47 UTC
If the Cambridge Analytica mess has convinced you it’s time to finally kick Facebook out of your life for good, you’re not alone.
Anti-Facebook sentiment is at an all-time high. The #deletefacebook hashtag has been trending on and off for days (it was even endorsed by the Facebook-made billionaire founder of WhatsApp), and Google searches for “delete Facebook” are at a five-year high.
And deservedly so. While it will be weeks or even months before the many investigations into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica conclude, it’s more clear than ever the company doesn’t deserve our trust.
For years, Facebook encouraged a platform that allowed third parties to freely scrape as much personal data as they could get their hands on. Worse still, it turned a blind eye to those who abused the few rules they did have.
But while it may make you feel better (and make you a better IRL friend), deleting Facebook won’t fix the data privacy nightmare we’re only just waking up to.
For years, developers routinely gathered incredible amounts of personal information just by getting us to log into a quiz app or farm game.
Cambridge Analytica is getting the bulk of our attention for the moment, but it’s far from the only company to profit from our information (even if it is the sleaziest). For years, developers routinely gathered incredible amounts of personal information just by getting us to log into a quiz app or farm game — it was just how the platform was designed. Or, to use Silicon Valley parlance, it was a feature, not a bug.
We’re now getting a sense of just how much we pay for all those times we eagerly smashed that “login with Facebook” button.
Mark Zuckerberg has promised the company will investigate every app that misused its platform and that Facebook will let people know if their personal data was impacted. But there is no way to undo the damage that’s been done. Scores of developers could still be hoarding our old Facebook data and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Moreover, it’s not just Facebook you should be worried about.
Almost everything you touch in your digital life is tracking you in more ways than you know. Search engines, advertisers, e-commerce platforms, and even your wireless carrier and internet service provider (ISP) have an uncomfortable amount of information about who you are, where you go, and what you like.
They may not be turning around and selling that data to political operatives, but they are engaging in their own kind of profiling.
“Any of the common big platforms that we use on an everyday basis is collecting various kinds of data about us that is being used to develop personalized profiles about us,” says Luke Stark, a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College and privacy researcher.
For too long, we’ve been more than willing to hand over this kind of access in exchange for being able to use whatever service is being offered. And there are very few structural protections in place.
We can’t undo the damage of the past, but our best hope for the future is not to stop using these services, but shift our expectations entirely. We, as digital citizens, need to take more responsibility for our data and who we let have it.
And companies (likely with the help of some good, old-fashioned government regulation) need to fundamentally change as well.
It’s the only way our privacy nightmare ends.