Facebook “stole” my data?!

Writing in after a really long time. Waiting for a flight to take off, I was reading this nice piece by Alex Tabarrok, aptly titled, The Facebook Trials: It’s not “our” data. He argues that before Facebook, this data did not exist in the first place, and Facebook “created’ that data in the first place. So, it has all the right to use that data – since it uncovered your relationships and preferences (some of which even you did not even know yourself).

That is not the primary concern – that Facebook used the data to target advertisements to me. What is immoral about this entire episode is that Facebook allowed third parties to use it in ways neither you wanted it, nor Facebook anticipated it. When I engage with a technology platform like Facebook or Google, I implicitly educate the platform, much the same way, a discerning store manager would understand my preferences as I walked through the store (okay, armed with more storage and processing power than the human store manager). The principle is the same.

What is scary is that the data was used to “manipulate” not just “advertise to/ communicate with” users. When the data user treated you as a consumer, and customized solutions for you (including recommendations), I liked it, appreciated it, and enjoyed it. But when it feeds me specific, filtered information about non-commercial information (like political news), is where the abuse began.

I guess therefore I would not delete my Facebook account anytime soon (not that I use it regularly); but would keep my eyes and ears open on what these trials lead to, and what privacy checks do these technology platforms commit to in the various countries. Prof. Nirmalya Kumar argues why he found Facebook and its CEO wanting in their apologies and testimonies, and why he quit Facebook here. I would however be looking out for inconsistencies in such commitments across countries with differing privacy and data management laws, much like how the packaged food industry leverages such differences to sell unhealthy food to lenient country consumers.

Cheers.

(C) 2018. Srinivasan R

Author: Srinivasan R

Professor of Strategy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. All views are personal. The views and opinions expressed here are of the author, and not those of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore; and are not intended to endorse, harm, malign, or defame any individual, group, or organisation.

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