Anytime you create a membership on a website or social media service you give away personal information about your identity. The more you use and contribute to the site, the more owners and other users are able to gather knowledge about you. With today’s technology, it’s easy for site owners to keep surveillance over users and content. But when does this tracking cross the line of privacy?
In Cooper’s article (2008) discussing media ethics, he summarizes a list of themes that were persistent in his study. Escalating concerns about invasion of privacy was common among the people that participated. When respondents were asked to share their greatest concerns about the Internet, 34% had expressed fears involving privacy. Today privacy concerns can be linked to the many social networking sites that have large membership bases.
Facebook is a social media site that allows members to join for free because of the revenue they make from selling spots for advertisements. In order for these ads to be effective, they must be tailored to the wants and interests of the users viewing them. During a week in January 2012, Facebook’s research team conducted a study that over 689,000 users unknowingly participated in (Forbes 2014). The research was done to measure how exposure to negative or positive posts affects peoples’ emotions. When the paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during 2014, people including lawyers, internet activists, and politicians claimed the “emotional manipulation” was intrusive and disturbing (The Guardian 2014).
Though the research was done to make Facebook more relevant and engaging, some feared it was for boosting advertising revenues and political purposes (Forbes 2014). Facebook’s data use policy includes a section regarding research, but does their terms of service, that usually go unread, live up to the definition of informed consent? Facebook officials responded by reassuring there was no unnecessary information collected and everything was done securely to see how people respond to different types of content (Forbes 2014).
When the topic of Facebook and privacy was discussed with interviewees, the term “creepy” was collective among the respondents. People generally think the government and marketers are stalking their every move and word on social media to be used in manipulation. One college student said, “I find it freaky that I Google search shoes and the next thing I know my Facebook feed is full of DSW ads.” The comments of the participants were correlated to the information provided in Cooper’s article and the uproar of angry Facebook users after knowledge about the sneaky research.
There is not much Internet users can do to protect their information except limiting what they do and say on the web. As long as people use free networking sites, they are going to be under surveillance and used for research to be targeted by advertisers. Whether or not these actions are ethical or not, they are going to take place with the expansion of technology and growth of activity on the Internet.
Booth, R. (2014, June 29). Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds
Cooper, T. (2008). Between the Summits: What Americans think about media ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23. 15-27. DOI: 10.1080/08900520701753106
Hill, K. (2014, June 28). Facebook manipulated 689,003 user’s emotions for science. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/06/28/facebook-manipulated-689003-users-emotions-for-science/