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Has Facebook Become Too Invasive?

source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/zuckerberg-facebook-senate-hearing.html

During early April of this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to a senate hearing to address the increasing concern regarding the breach of privacy for millions of Facebook users. Now known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was supposed that the Trump administration hired a political firm, Cambridge Analytica, to gain private information of potential voters. The political firm obtained access to individual’s names, what they “liked,” and other private information. Although Zuckerberg admitted some fault, the hearing soon transitioned into a debate over whether Facebook has gotten too big. To quote the article, much of the discussion revolved around Facebook’s “business model, such as the difference between selling user data to advertisers and allowing advertisers to target ads to an aggregated slice of Facebook users.” Many senators were skeptical of Facebook, who theoretically can predict who will vote for whom—by looking at an user’s history of “likes,” it may not be too difficult to identify the user’s political tendencies. With all the scrutiny, Facebook was forced to uphold and improve its privacy policies, before facing harsher legal penalties.

The relationship between this privacy breach and the concepts discussed in class, particularly of auctioning ads, is best encapsulated as a question in the article: does Facebook prioritize “profit over privacy?” From personal experiences, many can recall reading or “liking” something on Facebook, then soon see an advertisement of a similar product or service. Although the exact process confuses even the brightest technologists, it is clear that Facebook utilizes private information collected from us to cater its wide range of advertisements. Doing so creates a feeling of personalization (or privacy violation, depending on how one looks at it), which is partly responsible for how Facebook earned around $40B in revenue. Although it is important to know that Facebook makes money by second-price auctioning advertisements, by creating a matching market between the ad slots and the advertisers, an important question remains unanswered: whether or not it is ethical to utilize private information in a way that maximizes Facebook’s financial success. Many will argue that Facebook’s access to information on over a billion user makes the company all-too-powerful, that they already have the tools at hand to exploit its users, bombarding them with targeted ads. Others would place the blame elsewhere, claiming that it is the individual’s responsibility to be wary of the information posted. In all cases, Facebook’s success that resulted from auctioning ads must be reconciled with how intrusive it is to its user’s privacy.

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