Upset users should boycott social media
With the number of active social media users climbing into the billions, companies like Facebook and Google are looking to cash in on massive markets. Facebook has already explicitly changed its terms of service to accommodate their “shared stories” policy, while Google has been busy notifying users about how their new “shared endorsements” program will work before it goes into effect on Nov. 11.
These changes are just another reminder that, while there are certainly ethical concerns to be voiced against social media companies, the responsibility lies with the user to carefully monitor their online behavior and know how their information could be used.
The changes implemented by Facebook came on the heels of a $20 million class action lawsuit where the plaintiffs claimed that Facebook was wrongfully using people’s information and images in advertisements without consent or compensation.
Facebook has claimed its response to the lawsuit was a clarification, not a revision, of policy. “We revised our explanation of how things like your name, profile picture and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content to make it clear that you are granting Facebook permission for this use when you use our services,” wrote Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan in an announcement on the website.
This means that comments that you leave on a company’s Facebook page may be broadcast to all of your friends, or even the larger public. Given the lax nature of internet privacy laws in this country, one should always assume something they post online can be accessed publicly.
The profitability of Facebook hinges on the users. If users are upset about the changes, rather than whining about them, they should hit Facebook where it hurts and take their browsing elsewhere.
Google plus, having assumed the mantle of second most popular social media site, is rolling out a similar “shared endorsements” initiative next month. Users may find reviews by their friends and strangers popping up in their Google searches, but Google has tried to assure users that information will only be shared with members of the circles you designate.
The two main differences between Google and Facebook are that Google will not use under 18 users’ information and they have provided the ability and instructions to opt out.
As people become more integrated into social media, they must become more aware of the tools they have to protect their privacy. According to a 2012 study by Consumer Reports, almost 9 percent of American Facebook users had never set or didn’t know that privacy tools existed. A further 28 percent shared most of their wall posts with an audience larger than just their friends.
The trend in social media is finding a way to make money. With Twitter going public soon, users should expect similar changes on that platform as well. It is within their purview to take user information and turn it for a profit. It is the user’s responsibility to be aware of the protections available to them, just as the company has a responsibility to turn a profit.
But have no fear: if you are uncomfortable with sharing your profile picture or cover photo Facebook has a novel suggestion: delete them. Ultimately the power lies in the user’s hands to unplug themselves from the media platforms if they are using their information in ways the user never intended. If Facebook and Google don’t want to offer meaningful privacy to their users, there will always be a new social media platform on the horizon. Just ask Myspace.
Max Weintraub is a creative writing and Italian studies senior. Follow him @mweintra13.