Privacy smackdown: Facebook vs activists
A new generation of programmers and activists are nervous about Facebook's disregard of privacy, and some are fighting back.
This story was originally reported by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.
Privacy concerns often begin small, with a Facebook ad that hits a little too close to home. "Many users find it distressing and rather mystifying how it is that the ads become very much tailored to what is happening in their life the moment," Simon Davies director of the watchdog group Privacy International, told PRI's Here and Now. The advertisements seem to know if a person has just gotten married, broken up with a significant other or had a child.
Facebook and other companies keep "very detailed analysis of everything on your profile and every transaction that you conduct on that profile," Davies points out. The companies then use that information in increasingly obtrusive ways to serve ads and create partnerships with other companies.
The invasion of privacy is an integral part of Facebook's strategy, according to Davies. Referring to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Davies says, "The Zuckerberg philosophy is that more privacy equals less advertising revenue." The more privacy invasion, the more money they can bring in.
"Why should anyone be exposed to that risk?" Davies wonders. "Why isn't there enough respect for their customer" to protect them from privacy intrusion? According to Davies, companies don't need to invade privacy to make money. "You're simply causing your customers risk, and your causing your customers trouble."
A new generation of programmers and activists agree with Davies, and has been taking action to fight for privacy against Facebook. One programmer recently released personal information about 100 million Facebook users to the internet in an open, searchable format. "He was trying to make a point," according to Davies. "He was trying to say, look there's a problem here. Too many people are leaving their information exposed and Facebook doesn't care."
Davies defended the release of the information, saying, "This was very much an ethical attack."
Other similar efforts have included Openbook, a website that allows users to search for unprotected status updates. Programmers have also created Facebook privacy scanners that allow people to monitor how much information they're releasing online.
However, Davies cautions users of these kinds of programs to be sure that the programs are safe, too.
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