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Preventing a privacy nightmare for Facebook users

17 April 2018

But as Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered questions before Congress about online privacy and his company's reach, I wondered: What information does Facebook have on me?

This morning I asked my coworker, an active Instagram user, if he'd pay $10 a month for ad-free service. Zuckerberg's claim that people who don't have accounts are still being tracked by the world's largest social network sparked new privacy concerns.

The wholesale, planet-wide exploitation of personal data has dark implications, Tufekci said: "We could enter into a phase of "surveillance authoritarianism, ' where we don't face (George Orwell's) '1984" model, where there's open totalitarianism, where we're dragged off in the middle of the night".

Sure, we are outraged about the way Facebook lets advertisers use our data. Through my account, Facebook had collected the numbers for my sister and mortgage broker, but also for a woman whose son was killed in Charles Village several years ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (from his USA attorney days), various legislators and an anonymous source I'd dealt with for a series of stories in 2011 and 2012. That could make it a tough sell. It calculated the maximum number of friends that users could have had while the personality quiz app built by Cambridge Analytica was collecting data. If they're trying to promote a new movie, a restaurant chain, or an election campaign, they'd want as strong of penetration amongst their target audience as they can get.

Representative G.K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, demanded that Zuckerberg improve the company's hiring practices, pointing out that Facebook had no people of color in its highest executive ranks. On average U.S. and Canada users earn Facebook $7 per month from ads. Currently, Facebook earns more than $1 billion per quarter in advertising revenue. "They gave them too much access", he said. And Facebook's plan - notifying users whose data were shared and teaching others how to "secure their account and data" - is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Because after watching lawmakers fumble their way through the questions they posed to Zuckerberg, who'd swapped his customary hoodie for what appeared to be his dad's suit, it's not clear the majority of them possess the baseline understanding of what Facebook does to responsibly regulate it.

Posters depicting Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix behind bars at the entrance of the company's London offices
Image Posters depicting Mr Nix behind bars at the entrance of the company's London offices

"I would not assume that it is private that it's not being collected and tracked by Facebook - it is", she said.

Facebook, along with Google, Apple and Microsoft, is a tech behemoth whose operations touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

But perhaps it's just as likely that people would feel the exact opposite - that having to see those ads really isn't so bad when faced with the alternative of a steep subscription price. But, it's equally true that most people wouldn't bother to use them.

Facebook could voluntarily change the rules of the game. They make money from overdraft fees and maintenance fees and ATM fees. Seeing ads keeps Facebook's lights on, its labs full of future products, and its investors happy.

Facebook was recently considered the least trustworthy of protecting users' personal information following a spate of unseemly revelations and happenings, which, along with another poll, shows a fast changing mindset for Zuckerberg and the company once ostensibly regarded as darlings of the American dream and economy.

Preventing a privacy nightmare for Facebook users