How private is your privacy?
In March 2018, it was reported that Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired and refused to delete the Facebook data of up to 87 million users, mainly in the United States, and used it to create psychological profiles to disperse targeted political ads on behalf of the Trump Campaign, that may have affected the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election.
This pushed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about Facebook’s data-harvesting practices and its political implications.
In an Indy survey of a 200-level Sociology class on April 23, all 15 respondents said they keep their Facebook profile more private than less private. Thirteen respondents said their comfort in sharing data on Facebook had changed since news outlets revealed Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data.
Sociology student Kim Louie said she cares about online privacy, but didn’t know for years how to make sure her data on Facebook was mostly private. She said she recently learned how much user data was being shared on Facebook and how to increase her privacy settings after years of using the site.
Louie said that on April 21 she learned just how public Facebook can be. She said she discovered that an unfamiliar man in Pennsylvania had found her 13-year-old niece and attempted to contact her for three years.
Louie said she has learned to be more selective about the content she shares on social media.
“I’m always guarded,” she said. She now just uses Facebook Messenger for private conversations with long-distance family and friends.
Communications instructor Molly Lampros said when you join Facebook, agreeing to the terms of service means the site can use your data even if it’s private or deleted. Facebook, Google and other digital services allow third party access to harvested data for uses such as marketing and advertising, which she said is the crux of social media.
Lampros said even if users set their accounts to the highest privacy settings on social media, they are still forfeiting private data, like birthdays and favorite media, that can be used.
She said there are users who don’t care about their data being shared and embrace it as part of who they are and turn to online platforms for validation. These users can effectively reveal behavior and help third parties predict the mindsets and biases of users who work to remain neutral.
“Social media is a vehicle for marketing and its users are the product,” Lampros said. “The beauty of social media for marketing is that people volunteer their information, you don’t have to seek it out.”
Facebook Vice President Rob Goldman said in an April 23 news post that users are not the company’s product. “The core product is reading the news or finding information,” he said. “And the ads exist to fund that experience.” Goldman said Facebook assigns users to consumer categories for targeted advertising.
Lampros said social media is not about being social. “It’s about being capitalists and buying things through suggested advertisements based on friendships,” she said.
“Nothing about this is new,” Lampros said. “It’s what you signed up for.”
Senior Communications Specialist and Social Media Director Hannah Erickson said Clark’s social media presence has evolved since her start in 2010, from one abandoned Facebook page with 300 followers to a twitter profile, an instagram account and a new Facebook page with over 10,000 followers. She said it took awhile but the college managed to gain 700 more followers on Facebook in the first year.
Erickson said the atypical data mining by Cambridge Analytica did not directly affect Clark’s page, but if users leave Facebook as a result she would broaden Clark’s presence on other platforms.
Erickson said social media is a helpful tool for sharing information about the college with students and community members, such as when she was able to spread word about class closures and weather-induced wifi outages.
Erickson said students often don’t understand the impact of what they share. She said students post about cheating on their schoolwork and tag Clark’s page. “I see this and say to myself, ‘My goodness! What are they thinking?’”
“Nothing within social media is truly private,” Erickson said.