THE ISSUE: Is it okay for Facebook to be sharing data? Do people care? Should people care? In this round of viewpoints, two editorial board members debate to what degree we can accept Facebook sharing data with third parties.
The opposing viewpoint can be found here.
As social media grows and becomes more popular, many Americans have found themselves caught in a “Privacy Paradox.” While consumers are increasingly willing to share personal information in order to use social media for no fee, paradoxically they are more and more concerned with privacy.
The use of these applications is certainly a trade-off between privacy and accessibility. But here’s the thing — it is not that difficult of a decision. The incredible accessibility of social media has created more connectivity in America and across the globe. It has increased the political voice of marginalized groups and reimagined systems such as disaster relief response and public health.
Social media can only continue to be free (and therefore nearly perfectly accessible) through advertising revenue. By collecting data on users, apps such as Facebook can attract advertising dollars by offering targeted marketing to companies. This practice does sacrifice privacy, but at a small price. It is unclear how companies would utilize individual data other than selling consumers the products, people or ideas they believe will be most salient to them. In theory, it seems invasive but in practice the company use of data is seemingly harmless.
Most Americans agree with this viewpoint, even if they don’t realize it. Actions speak louder than words — while many Americans might argue that they place a high value on privacy, our increasingly ubiquitous use of social media and apps suggests otherwise. In 2018, 68 percent of adults have Facebook accounts across various demographic groups and nearly three-quarters of these users access the site daily. The number of adults who report using Instagram has increased by 7 percent from 2016 to 2018. These numbers communicate that for a majority of Americans, access to social media is worth their loss of privacy.
Nevertheless, the concern over online privacy needs to be addressed through legislation. Instead of stripping the power of social media companies to raise advertising revenue through user information, reforms should be prioritized. These include regulations that place greater responsibility on companies to clarify user agreements, protect the identifying information of consumers and increase transparency around what data is being used. Whether we use social media will continue to be a decision that leverages accessibility, connectivity, information and privacy. Not only is the choice obvious, it's already been made.