Mark Zuckerberg, while grilled by more than 150 politicians about his company’s privacy policies, gave one answer mostly, but in varied ways. His answer was to make Facebook more transparent and controllable for the user. That way, he insisted, users would have more control over what is shared, and to whom. But many people were dubious of the co-founder of Facebook’s argument and felt that he was playing Facebook users like a gullible old fiddle.
By providing its users with greater and more transparent controls over the personal data they share and how it is used for targeted advertising, he insisted, Facebook could empower them to make their own call and decide how much privacy they were willing to put on the site. Basically, if the Facebook company is more upfront about what they are doing, the users of Facebook will have more control, more foreknowledge, and more say in what data goes to whom, when, and if it never goes anywhere. It is all their choice!
Many believe users simply can’t control themselves
Some believe that Zuckerberg is being a bit Machiavellian about this whole situation. They claim that he knows that providing users with greater transparency and options will only lull Facebook users into a sense of security. This sense of security will cause them to share more data, not less, to companies, even Facebook themselves, that are eager to mine it for financially profitable information and data.
“Disingenuous is the adjective I had in my mind,” said Alessandro Acquisti, an expert on privacy-related behavior at Carnegie Mellon University, when he was asked about how Zuckerberg’s testimony meshed with his research. “It is no longer legitimate to ignore the behavioral problems and propose simply more transparency and controls.”
Laura Brandimarte and the behavioral economist George Loewenstein published research on this behavior nearly six years ago.
“Providing users of modern information-sharing technologies with more granular privacy controls may lead them to share more sensitive information with larger, and possibly riskier, audiences,” they concluded.
The phenomenon even has a name: the “control paradox.” The question becomes: “given the tools, can we be trusted to manage the experience.” The increasing body of research into how we behave online suggests not.
Bigger picture, plus some questions
Can Zuckerberg really be put to task for social habits outside the parameters of business legality? We all fear the Orwellian fascist over-controls (and are very vocal about it!), but dangerous things come from nanny-states. Is this not an issue for the social scientists, and not the founder of Facebook? There may very well be a paradox that the more control you give, the less people hold their personal data close to their chest, but what can Zuckerberg really do about this? If he made it more complicated, wouldn’t people complain about that, too? And perhaps more? The data intrusion was no doubt an issue and a betrayal. But does this theory really stand the test of logic? Or is Zuckerberg our babysitter now?
This “control paradox” is an issue for mankind
Individuals are, and will continue to be, increasingly represented in the virtual world by data points covering most, if not all, transactions, journeys and virtual chat boxes. In the future, will it ever really be possible to remove yourself from a system in which your friends are participating? Even if you have done an excellent job of being private yourself? And after all, you can’t, or shouldn’t forgo friendship! Won’t there always be a trace left behind our footsteps, even amongst the most cautious of luddites? The concept of “the opted-out individual in the world of Big Data” is important to examine. When it’s raining, you get wet, and when everyone is using social media, there a large chance that you might get “infected” too. That is the world we live in. As a thought experiment, imagine trying to be an “outsider” in this world. Just try. It’s very hard. Like it or not, the world is heading into an all-immersed techno-world epoch, and we have to adapt — that means our wherewithal and our behavior, too. But we can be more careful users, conscientious consumers, and overturn (and make a fool out of!) “the control paradox. We just have to make an effort.
Offsetting the dreaded “control paradox”
The social scientists that discuss Zuckerberg’s duty, perhaps even legally speaking, to his users, pay the users of Facebook a terrible, albeit subtle, insult. Namely, the one of infantilization. As opposed to assuming users will go crazy given a more transparent model of social networking, like a child with a credit card, we might just as easily choose to believe that this paradox theory can be replaced with something more sensible.
The internet has become an essential tool for most of us and a part of our everyday lives. We rely on it to send/receive emails, post/share photos and messages on social networking sites, shop for clothes and search for information. To a large extent, privacy can be attained, but is assumed difficult — because it is. In a Big Data world, remaining a human and not turning into a collection of data points is actually very difficult. But with self-control, diligence, and above all, caution that always errs on the side of safety, it can be done. You can take the below tips as far as you like, from Kardashian-status to Thoreau-in-the-woods status. But if you follow these to a tee, even if it feels a bit of a hassle, then it will be pretty hard for anyone to “mine” your data:
- Keep personal information (such as your hometown, birth date, and phone number) off social networks. Always.
- Don’t send any sensitive information when connecting over public Wi-Fi (e.g. don’t do banking or shop online).
- Use private browsing mode on your internet browser or at least turn off your browser cookies.
- Never reply to spam or unknown messages.
- Only friend or connect with people online you know in real life.
- Be aware of location services with your smartphone or tablet. Turn off the GPS on your mobile device’s camera.
- Routinely update your social media privacy settings to ensure your profile is appropriately protected and also make sure to change your passwords on your accounts at least three times a year.
Did you know that Facebook can track you even when you aren’t on Facebook?
- You can reduce, but not eliminate, online tracking by Facebook, and other companies, by using ad blockers or anti-tracking software.
The world is only going to grow more connected, and Big Data is going to grow stronger and stronger. It will not decrease. We will only see an increase in data-mining attempts, so that means we as people need to grow smarter, too, and more savvy. We can always share when we want, but understand the implications, and educate yourself to the meaning of sharing. As for when you do not want to share information, learning the tricks to avoid unwittingly doing so anyway is vital to the future citizen (and the present one too!)
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