Facebook should not sell personal data

September 11, 2013 — by Ashley Chen and Michelle Leung

Facebook gains its yearly profit of almost $2 billion through advertising, according to Daily Mail.

It sees you when you're sleeping. It knows when you're awake.

But that’s not all Facebook can do. The social media site can also see exactly where you are, which sites you visit and even what you look like. And it can sell a lot of that information to advertising companies.

Facebook gains its yearly profit of almost $2 billion through advertising, according to Daily Mail. It’s very easy for users to unknowingly post information online.

The problem with this information being available to Facebook, which can include a user’s language, age range and sometimes even photos, is that Facebook then claims the right to sell it. Privacy is a fundamental human right. It isn’t morally or legally fair that Facebook can take advantage of all of its users’ personal information. We shouldn’t have to choose between connecting with friends on America’s biggest social media site and protecting our private data.

The magnitude of the hold Facebook has on our daily lives means many people would find it incredibly difficult to just stop signing in. A coordinated effort to stop using Facebook in protest would be almost impossible because of the sheer number of users in the world and its convenience. 

Among other intrusions, ad companies aim specific ads at users who like or share certain pages. These companies can even use birth dates to send specific information and location tagging to advertise stores near users. While this is more efficient for the ad companies, it means that Facebook members unknowingly release their own user information to companies.

In 2011, five Facebook users successfully filed a suit against Facebook for selling private information without informing them. They are five of an estimated 150 million users whose names and photos Facebook has used to advertise in Sponsored Stories, which targets a user’s friends with advertisements based on the original user’s search history, Likes and more, according to BBC News.

Sites that use Facebook’s Platform, like Quizlet, can also pay for their association with the social network. As of April 2012, these sites include over 47 million pages and 9 million apps.

Until Aug. 26, this program was automatically applied to all users. Due to a recent court decision, about 614,000 people will receive a $15 compensation. However, the court estimated Facebook had made about $73 million from this enterprise alone.

According to the Washington Post, Facebook made a revenue of $3.7 billion and a profit of $1 billion in 2011.

Even though some may argue that Facebook’s privacy infringements don’t matter because many other companies, like Google, do the same, this amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Users who believe their efforts are futile won’t fight, and in response companies will continue to take advantage of them merely because they can.

Facebook’s data-selling of sensitive information violates the Federal Trade Commission’s laws on Fair Information Practice Principles. The code clearly states that consumers must give consent for their information to be released, which can happen through opt-in or opt-out policies. Either way, the user must have the choice to have no information made public — a choice Facebook, with its “public information” policies, doesn’t offer.

Facebook is the villain here, but users can still take certain precautions to protect themselves. For example, a check of default settings on an account and an avoidance of posts with sensitive information could restrict Facebook’s store of user information.

Knowledge is power, but for Facebook, knowledge is money.

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