Everyone knows Facebook has a problem. The headlines are relentless and appear day after day. If you only read the headlines, though, you might have an uneasy feeling, without knowing exactly why.
Here is a primer on what’s been happening recently, what’s gone wrong, and how it might be addressed.
Facebook collects a lot of information about everyone who uses it. Or to be more precise, we give Facebook the information. We provide a partial biography when we join. Then we create a network of Facebook friends, who have also provided hints about their preferences. Then we “like” some of their posts and share other posts with our network. Now Facebook knows a good amount of what we say we value, and it can discern more about our leanings by who we interact with, and how.
Most of us provide that information without thinking too much about it. But we assume, perhaps naively, that Facebook will keep the information safe. At the same time, Facebook makes money by analyzing our information so it can sell advertising targeted specifically toward us. Facebook is using our preferences so others can sell us stuff.
As it turns out, people are generally OK with that proposition. What we might question is Facebook giving that information to other companies. Well, it turns out that is what happens, even to this day.
Who else is looking at you?
The recent big news stories concern such sharing. In 2014, a company enticed more than 200,000 people to fill out a quiz on Facebook and then download an app. The app scoured data from all of the contacts of those original 200,000. In the end, information from about 50 million people was downloaded and most of them had no idea that Facebook had allowed it.