Column: Facebook users should be wary of company’s data mining

By Doug Walp

The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia U. via UWIRE

Some people are surprised that Facebook and most other popular social media services are provided for absolutely no cost to any of its 800,000,000 users.

Facebook is quite satisfied with the current arrangement. Because today we are living in a modern age in which information has become one of the most valuable commodities of all, enabling companies like Facebook, which deal in the trafficking and archiving of this information, to become incomprehensibly successful.

In fact, Facebook was able to generate $3.2 billion in revenue in 2011 by selling this data, which many people consider to contain somewhat personal information, wholesale to other companies and advertisers. This way, the countless corporations can more easily tap into their targeted consumer (you) and your marketable interests.

It seems somewhat harmless, initially.

But every day, millions of Facebook and other social media users share personal, sometimes intimate information with friends or family that could eventually come back to haunt them.

Lori Andrews from the New York Times even reported some people have had to defend themselves against data mined online in both criminal and child custody cases, and this information is often lumped into unfounded groups that can be established with only the slightest correlation.

For instance, searching Facebook groups for a controversial topic for research or other practical purposes could result in government agents taking notice of the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Many will merely claim if you want to maintain your privacy, don’t ever post any of your personal information online – admittedly pretty simple and effective advice. But does that mean a guarantee of privacy online is simply a myth? That, in order to be safe, we’ll have to absolutely abstain from digital communications? That’s a notion our society simply shouldn’t be willing to accept.

It’s also somewhat ironic that while a majority of our society’s population is in an uproar over the government’s attempts to impede upon our collective online privacy, Facebook has been selling our private information to the highest bidder for years without too many people considering the repercussions.

Most of these same people have never even been aware Facebook has never necessarily been a safe haven for their personal information, but it’s also become apparent Facebook’s information sharing has become much more widespread and complicated than a majority of its everyday users could have ever imagined.

For example, most users have been aware for some time that potential employers constantly scan social networks for information about prospective hires – but it’s also reported that the Internal Revenue Service, United States immigration and others are constantly scanning Facebook’s enormous data archives to track down its eluders.

It’s certainly not a bad thing that criminals are being brought to justice through these means, but it’s also somewhat unnerving to realize how it seems we’re constantly moving ever closer to the infamous “Big Brother” society.

Because although Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg claims he created the revolutionary social media giant in order to “accomplish a social mission” in his ultimate quest to “make the world a more open place,” that could all change in less than a month.

That’s not to say Zuckerberg will no longer try to accomplish the macro-connectivity philosophy that’s made the Harvard prodigy one of the youngest billionaires in history.

But once Facebook officially becomes a publicly traded company on the stock market, Zuckerberg’s No. 1 priority will unarguably be pumping up his share prices for his investors.

The most logical way for Zuckerberg to do that is to generate even more revenue through shipping out unfathomable amounts of this invaluable data in a process coined “data aggregation.” With the literal nonexistence of legislation pertaining to data mining regulation, loose correlations being made within the data collection along with the vast, seemingly unending potential of the information market presents some possible problems.

It’s not a series of problems that’s completely unique to Facebook, either, as fellow columnist Casey Hoffman pointed out in her Feb. 28 piece. Google is currently the largest trafficker and archivist of information, bringing in an estimated $36.5 billion – more than 11 times what Facebook pulled in the same year.

But as I mentioned, Facebook is about to cross the threshold into the territory of a publicly traded company.

This means not only will they see even more wild potential for growth, but ultimately, the almighty dollar, rather than common sense, will control the direction of Facebook and its ever-increasing data mining and trafficking.

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