Facebook is the largest social network in the world. It quickly grew from a niche website for Ivy League college students to a massive social network used by a billion users worldwide. As of 2014, the company had a market worth of $148 billion. The site is free and gains the majority of its revenue through advertising. It utilizes the information that Facebook users share on their pages to serve highly specific ads. This strategy has proven to be very lucrative, but the way it is implemented has shown that people’s privacy is being threatened in the majority of cases. The United States has no laws that would force Facebook to disclose the information it is gathering to its users, and the company insists on using this information without asking for permission from the user.
When a new person registers, all of the features that Facebook provides are enabled, and all the privacy settings are disabled. This means that anyone who does not turn them on is left unprotected. This information could subsequently be used against the users. Despite some setbacks in its advertising plans, Facebook is still focused on this style of advertising and data collection which makes privacy almost non-existent for its users.
When dealing with the issue of privacy in social networks, it is important to note that even the basic use entails substantial disclosure of personal information. However, the reason behind such willing disregard of privacy from the users of the site lies in the people’s desire to engage with their friends and loved ones. A study of 116 Facebook users shows that by using such privacy-compromising tools such as tagging and third-party applications, people become more emotionally connected to their Facebook profiles and are more likely to use the site. In contrast, users who had stronger concerns for privacy were not likely to use the site often (Wisniewski, Xu, Lipford & Bello-Ogunu, 2015).
The privacy settings available to the user are also problematic and often do not provide enough protection even when they are enabled. To address this issue, many solutions have been proposed. One solution focuses on reducing the complexity of the settings themselves. Some users do not understand the current structure; thus, the author proposes that by consolidating options into three predefined levels, users would more likely use the settings (Fang, Rajamanthri, & Husain, 2015).
The issues caused by the lack of privacy on Facebook are not unique. Similar issues have plagued other businesses that prioritized targeted advertising based on the private information gathered from their users. This type of advertising often hides the fact that the information will be gathered and used without notification or the ability to opt-out of the program. If this information is given, it is often phrased in a lengthy way that prevents the user from paying attention. Sites like Google, Amazon, and Twitter utilize similar schemes of targeted advertising and have come under much criticism for doing so. However, the privacy issues of Facebook are much higher because people often share their photos, dates, and other information that would otherwise be private without knowing that it might be public.
What is the ethical dilemma presented by the Facebook case?
The ethical dilemma proposed in the article is a relatively common one. The management of Facebook has to decide whether the benefits of its advertising tactics outweigh the harm caused by the loss of privacy of its users. More than 70$ of all revenue generated by the site comes from advertising which makes this a much harder dilemma for the company. However, the harm being caused by the lack of privacy can lead to loss of human life.
What is the relationship of privacy to Facebook’s business model?
Privacy is seen as a barrier to Facebook’s business model. The core business model of the site is based on people sharing their information which is subsequently used to show them ads based on their data. If the information is kept private, the company would not be able to utilize it.
What management, organization, and technology factors have contributed to the weaknesses of Facebook’s privacy policies and features?
Will Facebook be able to have a successful business model without invading privacy?
Facebook could have a less invasive business model if the company addressed the issues of privacy settings. By simplifying them and at the same time allowing more comprehensive privacy options, the company could protect the users while still using their information. Setting moderate privacy options by default could also help, as well as providing clearer information about the use of private data to its users.
Fang, S., Rajamanthri D., & Husain M. (2015). Facebook privacy management simplified. In S. Latifi (Ed.), 12th international conference on information technology – new generations (ITNG 2015) (pp. 719-720). Piscataway, NJ: IEEE.
Wisniewski, P., Xu, H., Lipford, H., & Bello-Ogunu, E. (2015). Facebook apps and tagging: The trade-off between personal privacy and engaging with friends. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(9), 1883-1896.