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What you should know about using Facebook

By Alvin Soon - on 24 Mar 2018, 8:00am

Facebook is a great place to connect with friends, stay in touch with family, and get updates on the latest news.

But Facebook is also more than that. Facebook has become a breeding ground for disinformation. Facebook tracks you pervasively, even if you’re not a Facebook user. It played loose with your data, freely sharing it with third-parties.

And at the heart of it, Facebook is a surveillance machine designed to turn your personal data into a product. Are you okay with that?


Facebook as a battleground for the mind

Facebook has become a battleground for disinformation campaigns. It’s likely that foreign agents used Facebook as a propaganda machine in the 2016 US presidential elections. Malicious actors still use Facebook to spread fake news and hate speech

Facebook was forced to shut down temporarily in Sri Lanka, after hate speech on the platform incited mob violence. United Nations investigators blame Facebook for spreading hate speech inciting violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar.


Facebook is a pervasive surveillance machine

Facebook tracks your activities online, even when you’ve logged out of Facebook. Facebook even tracks people who aren’t Facebook users, by creating shadow profiles triangulated from users’ contacts. Even if you’ve never registered for a Facebook account, it’s likely that Facebook has your information.

Facebook has so much information on its users that it’s likely the largest surveillance machine ever built. How many more private corporations know who you are, where you live, where you work, who your friends are, who you’re with, where you’ve been, and more?


Facebook was careless with your personal data

The latest news about Cambridge Analytica shows that Facebook was careless about how it protected users’ personal data. Its earlier protocols allowed third-party apps to scrap information not only from consenting users but also from unsuspecting friends of friends. 

Even though Facebook knew that data from nearly 50 million users was harvested and given to a data-mining company, it didn’t inform those users. It asked that the data be deleted, but didn’t check that it was.


Facebook turns you into a product

Facebook is not free and it’s never been. You may not have paid a single cent to use the website. But you have been helping Facebook make billions, by giving them your personal data to sell to advertisers

At its heart, Facebook is a surveillance machine designed to turn your personal data into a product. For all the talk about changing Facebook, it’s unlikely that Facebook will stop harvesting personal data for profit.


A right to be forgotten

You could delete your Facebook account, but thanks to shadow profiles, your information could still be uploaded to the site. Even if you limit the amount of data you share on your Facebook account, that doesn’t stop the company from tracking your online activity.

But for all its problems, Facebook still has the potential for good. Millions use the site because it is a great place to connect with friends, stay in touch with family, and get updates on the latest news.

Is there a way to have your cake and eat it too? Unless Facebook changes its lucrative business model and stops collecting personal data to sell, the answer is a simple ‘no.’ But there are probable middle grounds.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation law will come into effect from May. It curtails what companies can do with personal data, like selling people’s information without its consent.

The GDPR regulation comes with a ‘right to be forgotten’ clause, which some have suggested may be a way to reduce Facebook’s data harvesting. What if, for example, users could request that any harvested data could only be retained for 30 days? That would still allow Facebook to sell targeted ads, but let users keep a degree of privacy.

It’s unlikely that Facebook would install such an option on its own. But Facebook might be forced to if it’s regulated. Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, more governments have been calling for investigations into Facebook. The final fallout from this remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it’s worth asking yourself this question. After all that you’ve learned about Facebook, are you’re still okay with using it?

Alvin Soon

Alvin Soon / Former Deputy Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.