The Scapegoating of Facebook

Soaring Eagle Advice Column

I feel like I have stayed quiet for too long. If you are my close friend, you have heard this rant a dozen times. But I have kept my pen (keyboard) quiet on this issue, and I feel as though it is time to speak out.

Facebook is being scapegoated. Why? I do not know.

If you have a Facebook account, you know you are sharing information with the world. We practically beg for the attention:

- We create post like: “I am a teacher. I want to show my students how far this post will go. Please like, comment, and share.”

- We follow movie stars, commercial sites, political sites, etc. They know we are following them. They now know who we are and what details are in our profile.

- We share information about what we are doing on a daily basis.

- We check-in when we arrive somewhere and tag the people who are with us.

- We post pictures of what we’re doing.

Is Data Mining Going Too far?

Facebook did allow folks to mine data, but we are the ones who put this data on the internet, releasing it to the world. We need to take responsibility for our own actions. Facebook is a billboard, and we are all using that billboard for our own self-promotion.

It’s One of the Oldest Tricks in the Books.

The truth is our demographic data has been used to promote, send direct mail, and advertise on TV and radio for all or most of our lives.

Nielsen TV and radio ratings used to have us fill out forms. They then installed special units to figure out what we watched. Now they use our cable bill or downloads of our “on demand” inquiries to figure out what we are watching. They then sell this data to advertising agencies, so they can map the ads that are targeted directly to us.

US postal service sells our address list. Census and public tax data is sold and used for all kinds of data analysis for commercial and government strategies.

Grocery stores have been selling our demographic data for decades to help brands decide what to sell in in what locations, and whether to spend more on their own shelf space and what coupons to offer.

What about credit cards? Credit card companies share our purchasing and travel habits with their retail customers.

Facebook is Only a Piece of the Puzzle.

In today’s world, the main culprit for exploiting what we would consider private data is not Facebook. It is our phones, Google, Amazon, and other vendor or retail establishment we share our information with. All done voluntarily, sometimes reluctantly, and without personal realization in regard to what the data could be used for.

The worst data abuser is our phones. Our phone knows where we go, when we go, who we go with, and how long we are there. This happens because the GPS in our mobile devices is most likely on.

We check-in using Facebook. We make calls, text, or email friends and family. When we use our phones, the data is automatically used and stored in our phones and in the phone’s cloud.

Guess what happens with this data? It is SOLD, not only to commercial entities, but to our government agencies. FBI, local and state authorities purchase the data to use for criminal and civil applications. If you want to be worried about your private thoughts and likes, be wary of your phone and any online devices.

Where Else do we Share our Data?

We share information about us by filling out any online survey, even if it’s just for fun. Same goes for any social or dating sites and for medical testing, DNA, or cancer screening sites that are online.

You May be Even Sharing Your DNA.

Are the “what are my origins?”, “where are my relatives?”, “DNA screening for diseases,” “long lost ancestors” safe to use? Well, are they regulated? NO! Are there industry standards for performing the testing? NO! Can the data ever be used against me? YES! Is my data safe? NO! Can I trust these organizations to keep my data confidential? NO!

Have you heard about the “Golden State Killer” and how they caught this alleged perpetrator? First, this took a lot of ingenuity, legal strategy, persistence, and tenacity to finally solve this case. But consider this: A private citizen requested a medical test that later became evidence that convicted him.

You used to have to give prior permission to provide DNA that could directly be used against you. Now, it can be used in legal actions against you and the testing facilities themselves have no regulations, no authenticity, no data storage or control requirements to be sure that the test tube was assigned to the correct person. The data could be used for life insurance or health insurance acceptance and pricing. It could also be used by employers to look for specific diseases or mental abilities.

Finally, it can be used against us in a court of law when we don’t have any authentication processes to ensure the data is aligned properly to its owners.

Before you send the test tube, consider how much you want the world to know about you. Also consider whether you are doing this for fun. Or what if you find out that your DNA does not match your family’s stories. How much will that matter to you? How do you figure out what is the truth?

We are our own Worst Enemies

We share information about ourselves every moment we are online, on our phones, in our homes listening to Alexa’s music list.

Be careful. Start taking ownership, and make informed decisions about what you are actually sharing before allowing the data to be online, before your purchase a service, before you use your credit card.

Consider what you are doing and who may find out. Before you blame all of your data sharing on Facebook, think of what you’re doing to cause the problems. Don’t pretend that Facebook’s practices are to blame.

In the age of information, it is your responsibility to be educated on how the data you share can be used against you. You are the culprit. That’s the real elephant in the room.