Will the Government Take Facebook Away from You?

Do you like chocolate? If you visit a website that sells chocolate, then later use Facebook, you might see ads for chocolate. Ads from the very same chocolate company who’s website you visited earlier. Has your privacy been violated? Should there be laws against that? Is your privacy being violated when you see ads (on other websites) for the product you just viewed on Amazon but did not purchase?

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today. After the meeting the senator said this should be a topic of discussion. The topic concerning the question about privacy being violated. Privacy being violated because you see ads from businesses who’s website you’ve visited.

The process is called “Retargeting”, or “Behavioral Retargeting”. As stated in Wikipedia, Behavioral Retargeting is a form of online targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous Internet actions. Just like the example mentioned above.

This issue is not the same as the incident involving Cambridge Analytica although retargeting advertising was still the goal of the users. With the Cambridge Analytica issue Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to acquire user data without Facebook users knowing about it. That in itself is a problem, but it’s a separate problem.

We demand protection of our privacy! That’s what people are saying. That’s what politicians are saying. That’s what commentators on TV news shows are saying. So why is everyone sharing data on Facebook? It’s a social network! The very definition of a social network is that you share information. That’s the opposite of privacy! If laws are written to enforce privacy could they drive Facebook into being an illegal platform? Or could it drive it’s users, and profits away? Would people even be able to use Facebook if the government passes laws that would apply in this situation?

A man walks into a bar
Here’s an example of retargeting that happens without even using the internet. A man walks into a bar. While in the bar he’s offered a menu that also includes food and other beverages. The bar is targeting that customer to try sell him something. He has been identified as a potential buyer. Because he’s in the bar! On the way out he might see a brochure promoting a beer of the month club. Or a complimentary restaurant or hotel. Again he’s being targeted as a potential customer. He’s much more likely to be become a customer than the lady down the street who is shopping for shoes. Has that man’s privacy been violated? Does he have the right to not be asked if he would like to order food or beer? Or the right to “not” see brochures on the way out the door? And if a law exists to protect his privacy in that way can he sue for damages because the bar and others invaded his right to privacy? How ridiculous does that sound?

Separate Facebook Problems
Fake News: News stories that are untrue. Untrue news stories that influence what people think about topics, business, and politicians. Elections can be affected. Many things can be affected. So this is an issue that should be dealt with. It’s always been an issue, even before the Internet. It’s just easier to produce Face News stories now because of the Internet and Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica: Many news anchors and commentators spin this into a Trump bashing story. But the real issue is that Facebook apparently shared it’s own users information with Cambridge Analytica without it’s users knowing about it. The data was not sensitive though. It wasn’t credit card information or social security numbers. It was behavioral information. Behavioral information that gives political campaigns the ability to more accurately use Facebook advertising. The same kind of data that gives businesses the ability to more accurately use Facebook advertising. Who behaves like a Democrat vs Republican. What are the ages and genders of these people. What kind of websites and Facebook pages do they visit. What do they like.

Privacy: This is related to the Cambridge Analytica problem. But it’s an issue even without the Cambridge Analytica incident. Is Facebook violating your privacy by tracking everything you do while on “their” platform, then allowing advertisers to access the information so they can waste less money while advertising? Keep in mind that the advertisers cannot see identifiable information. They can’t see individual names, email addresses, phone numbers, or addresses. In fact, the advertisers cannot see a list of the information at all. In fact, I suspect that the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica did not include personable identifiable information either. (I don’t know for sure but I bet it didn’t).

Too Much Control: Too much control over what? I’d say too much control over the people. More specifically, too much control over what people read and ultimately believe and act on. We’ve heard about this in the form of suppression of conservative stories and favoring of non conservative stories. No one knows if Facebook is being fair and balanced, but we should all know there is no doubt that the capability to influence huge amounts of people’s opinions and actions exist. Let’s hope the power doesn’t lead to corruption.

What Should Happen to Facebook?
Many people commenting on this, including congress people and national TV hosts, don’t know what they’re talking about. Most don’t understand the differences among the various issues. It seems like the public is always demanding the government to regulate more stuff. In the case of Facebook retargeting I hope they don’t. They should leave it alone. Retargeting helps businesses. Advertisers both big and small can save money by using the targeting capability of Facebook. It means that people who aren’t interested in seeing your ads don’t have to see your ads. That’s good for both the advertisers and the viewers. If the government regulates retargeting on Facebook, it’s regulating the advertisers themselves including very small businesses and organizations.

As for holding Facebook accountable in regards to controlling news and opinion stories, that’s important. Facebook is an aggregator of news with very little competition. This creates an opportunity for unfairness and corruption. The government should spend more time on this issue and less on the false concern about privacy of data used by advertisers for retargeting.

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  1. Nick Jager on April 9, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    You make some very interesting points on this subject. So much of what we see on the news about this is blown out of proportion. The senator came out of the meeting saying it was naive on Facebook’s part to think that they didn’t know anything about the misleading news. Thank you for shedding some light on this.

  2. Paul Martin on April 10, 2018 at 4:23 am

    I personally hope that the government doesn’t take control of Facebook. But I personally get tired of being bombarded with adds after I look at something out of curiosity,and have no further interest in the matter

  3. Jeff on April 10, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for your comment Paul. I know, I think it’s the price we pay (having to see ads) for getting to use Facebook for free.

  4. Jeff on April 10, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Thanks for your comment Nick! Interesting story to follow, we’ll see what happens!

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