The Price of Privacy
An aggressive suit was filed against Facebook, Inc., this week for misleading their users about its location tracking services. Have you ever gotten a notification from Facebook letting you know that one of your friends is nearby? What if I told you that that person may not know their location is being notified to others? Maybe they even purposely turned their location services off; however, you still get this alert. That’s what we’ll be talking about this week, guys. I think it’s perfectly form fitting that this is the blog right before Halloween, because this situation is a little spooky.
On October 19th, a Facebook user by the name of Brett Heeger, filed suit against Facebook, Inc., for allegedly misleading their users into believing that they have full control over their location services restrictions. Heeger is claiming that even if users shut off their location services, Facebook still secretly records your location. Heeger states that he turned off all tracking and location services in 2016 when he purposely stopped using Facebook Mobile. Since then, Facebook has continued to track his location, despite his decision to turn off all settings. This was discovered, when Heeger logged into Facebook one day. He learned that turning off your location only stops Facebook from displaying a location history that is visible on the Location History page. This, alone, does not stop Facebook from tracking, logging, and storing users’ personal and intimate location information. Every time a user opens Facebook, it stores “Login Protection Data” that shows users’ “Estimated location inferred from IP,” right down to users’ latitude and longitude on the date and time of login.
In the official complaint he submitted in court, Heeger accuses facebook of purposely tracking its users information and violating California’s Constitutional Right of Privacy. This would be unsettling if this were to be true, and it poses one question: should we have to compromise between being able to use technology and having privacy? Philip E. Agre and Marc Rotenburg of UCLA wrote in the MIT Press that “as laws, policies and technological design increasingly structure people’s relationships with social institutions, individual privacy faces new threats and new opportunities.” I find this to be very true.The opportunities we have to connect with anyone around the world are endless, however, we are threatened by the fact that we trust so much information to be securely stored in Facebook’s platform because they secretly record all of it. Possessing so much information about an individual's activity and behavior is not only invasive, but against what their Facebook’s policy says. This is a huge threat to our privacy, as users of online platforms, such as Facebook.
This is freaky, folks. Does this mean that anyone can view our location at anytime? As Facebook users, we expect our information to be protected, especially when we have explicitly indicated so. This includes private messages, personal information, and especially your location. Since the platform gives you an opportunity to control your own privacy settings, you would think that they would honor it, right?
Not necessarily, no.
Did you know this? Did you ever wonder how it seems like one minute you could be thinking about something, and the next, an ad pops up in your social media stream for that exact item. I know I’m not the first person who thought that was weird. If Facebook notices that you travel to a certain grocery store every week, you may start to see ads of that grocery store’s competition. If Facebook notices that you are frequently searching for different hair products, you will start to see ads for various hair products. This is how they appeal to their users. Based off of an extremely intricate and complex algorithm, Facebook is able to figure out who you are because it knows where you go and what your interests are based on your internet search history. This can be good and bad. It may be nice to start seeing ads for places and things you might be interested in. On the other hand, it pretty awkward to know that Facebook is paying attention to these things. It makes you wonder what else they may be tracking and documenting.
Maybe now you can see where Heeger is coming from.
This is not something that is common to Facebook alone, other online platforms face similar issues, such as Google. The company was recently sued back in August in a class action suit, for tracking user’s whereabouts even when they chose to shut their location services off. Similar to the situation with Facebook, Google continued to track users location even after it was prompted not to. They did this through a feature called “ “Web and App Activity”. Sound familiar?
Both the companies benefit from the fact that they can track your location because they make money off of the ads that they tailor specifically to you. This is why Heeger and others are claiming an unspecified amount of monetary damages for all the location-based ads they were given because of where they were. Facebook and Google make it extremely hard for you to navigate their privacy settings because you may shut off your location services in one portion of the app, but in another section, it may still be allowed. For example, in Heeger’s complaint, he says that even though he turned tracking off so he would not receive any targeted ads, you were still able to see his location based off of where he was when he logged into the app.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out for both companies. Who knows, maybe because both of them are getting sued at the same time, it will catch the national news radar? A little under a year ago, we were fighting for net neutrality and now we are fighting for our overall right to privacy. It would be helpful to lobby lawmakers into regulating social media platforms’ behavior a more so that our Constitutional right to privacy is protected, because if left unregulated, this could get out of hand very fast.
Looking ahead, if Heeger avails in this case, we are hoping it will open the eyes of federal politicians to start bringing this issue into legislation. Regulating the way companies like Facebook and Google have access to this information could help. Creating laws that restrict them from collecting information through various loopholes should definitely be the next step.
I think a big reason for the disconnect between technology and proper protective legislation is the age gap in Congress. Older members may not necessarily understand the scope and impact these companies have. Our society is advancing at a rapid rate. Technology and media is absolutely booming and without proper regulation, it could get out of control.
Take the precautionary measures to protect your information as much as you can, for now. If you have an extreme aversion to the fact that Facebook and Google are doing this, try refraining from using them so much. Other than that, I think this is a very important decision we must make, as social media users; do I sacrifice my privacy for the right to connect with people all over the world?
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