Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has become the world’s most visited social media site. This is hardly surprising. Facebook’s inception gave birth to a wave of new social media from Instagram to Twitter, creating the most interconnected generation to date. Consumers flocked to Facebook, engrossed by the novel possibility of free instant and unlimited connection. The excitement I felt about communicating with my cousins in Israel cost- free is a vivid memory—this new multimedia platform would leave the days of expensive phone calls and dry emails behind. Past this initial fascination with a new community however, lie heavier questions about what this freedom costs.
Most have experienced the anxiety-producing moment of seeing a personalized advertisement worm its way onto their newsfeed. How did Facebook know I just searched for the nearest Forever 21? Why is there an endless stream of advertisements for pants, belts and dresses on my newsfeed seconds later? This anxiety soon subsided for consumers who accepted this as the new normal and a fair tradeoff for the free service. But this tradeoff has larger implications than expected.
The fine print of personalized advertising is unknown to most. The immense data collection Facebook partakes in is shocking, from access to nearly every nook and cranny in your smartphone to keeping your data forever, even after you delete your account. Data collection provided 45% of Facebook’s income this past year, with mobile advertising sales accounting for 78% of that. Facebook uses data collected by outside companies to create a more accurate portrayal of the consumer for marketers. The exchange of your personal information is not secure—private information is easily accessed. According to Slate, the use of a few legal loopholes can allow marketers to access your username, email and location data. Facebook claims to encrypt this personal data through a process called hashing, but according to ComputerWorld these encryptions can be deciphered in less than two days by the average hacker.
All this information has sparked public controversy regarding privacy policies, but has Facebook reformed data collection to keep consumers safe? The research would indicate not. Forbes consulted researchers to breach private Facebook profiles in an attempt to test new privacy updates. The researchers relied on Facebook’s profile information and facial-recognition software to match Facebook users with their pictures on anonymous Match.com accounts. Shockingly, the researchers didn’t log into Facebook to collect photos, they accessed profile information through Facebook’s search engine APIs with a nearly perfect match success rate.
This means consumers don’t have to worry simply what Facebook and other social media sites are doing with their data, but what they enable others to do. What’s clear is no one is exempt from data collection, leaving most anonymous in a sea of data. The concern is what happens if someone comes looking for you.