Facebook comes under fire for selling identities


By Duke Staff

Online privacy may be a new oxymoron. News broke this week about Facebook’s involvement with the far-right Cambridge Analytica data firm that showed the world that social media sites don’t much care about your privacy. A user, to Zuckerberg or any other data analyst, is just some point that can be packaged and then sold or shared. It’s a social network run by someone without social skills. For profit.

The scandal began with a British public relations firm: Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) Group. In 2013, the ever-plotting Steve Bannon became interested in SCL Group and connected them with his friends, the puppeteering Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who’s notorious for funnelling money into ideologically far-right projects.

SCL Group told the Mercers that they had been able to create political messaging technology that could model people’s personalities and target them with specific ads. The Mercers paid $15 million to set up their own data firm, Cambridge Analytica, which contracted its work through SCL Group. Cambridge Analytica would go on to be hired by the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

Now, here’s where Zuckerberg and his dorm room invention get involved. To greatly simplify a radically complicated series of events, Facebook allowed a professor associated with Cambridge Analytica to gain access to data from 50 million profiles, most without permission, through one of those personality quiz apps your high school classmates and elderly aunts take. According to reporting by the New York Times, the data collected included each users’ likes, their identities and their friend networks. The professor took the data and gave it to Cambridge Analytica, which goes against Facebook’s rules about user information. However, Facebook found out in 2015, but it did not notify its users of the violation.

Look, we know no one reads the user agreements when you sign up for anything; certainly none of us here did. But, we should reconsider. We have to realize that, like it or not, our personal data is being monetized and shared around the globe to organizations you don’t know about.

Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are all publicly-held companies looking to boost their bottom line and satisfy their stockholders. All you are to them is money signs — a product to be sold to advertisers, Russians or dark money Republicans.

The quickest solution is to stop, as hard as that sounds. Delete your account and log off. However, we realize that social media is so ingrained in everyday life and is often a crucial tool for people. It may be a part of their work, as it is with The Duke, or it might be their only connection to other marginalized groups.

So until the day we can move off these platforms entirely, just be aware. Look into what your signing up for and keep track of the policies of the sites you go on. Be a smart online consumer and protect what’s left of your privacy.

And please stop sharing those stupid quizzes.