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Data Sharing and Social Media

Daphne van Hesteren

Recently, the documentary ‘the Social Dilemma’ was released. In this documentary former employees of the world’s most influential platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Google, explain how these platforms are designed to store and re-use your activities. It made me curious about their abilities and practices with sharing this data.

One of the main points of criticisms presented in the documentary is that these platforms create polarisation in our society by using people’s “personal” data. By solely focusing on satisfying user’s interest and addictive cravings, ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ are created that can form and, in an extreme case, manipulate people’s opinions and behaviour.

Let’s look at Facebook, for example. Generally, Facebook does not sell or share their highly sensitive data. In addition, apart from Facebook’s data breach in 2016 that resulted in Cambridge Analytica allegedly manipulating Trump’s Campaign1 (explained in detail in the documentary ‘the Great Hack’), we can assume this to be true for all platforms. However, 98% of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertisements. Facebook excels at using people’s preferences and interests to target a specific group of people to sell companies’ products to. The platforms are prohibited to share personal data with other parties in order to protect individuals. However, if you can pay these platforms to use personal data for you, and therefore create the opportunity to manipulate people into buying or reading certain products, does this prohibition really protect anyone?

As the documentary explicitly says, it is a dilemma. On the one hand, we really enjoy the platforms as it enables users to interact with friends, stay up to date with the most recent news, relax and laugh from funny video’s and be able to quickly share information with groups of people. However, on the other hand we are also starting to acknowledge that these platforms are addictive and have the tools to ‘control’ groups of people as users get sucked into the aforementioned ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’. The biggest problem is that we do not have a solution to this dilemma right now. Nevertheless, the increasing awareness about this dilemma is the first step in the right direction. We should be thoughtful, while being able to enjoy the platforms, about the information we share with companies and how companies are able to share our data with other parties.

What can be done about this Social Dilemma? What can we as consumers and interested parties do to protect our personal data?