PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

December 6, 2021

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Facebook is under all kinds of fire for their many sins. Exposing personal data without permission and using their mobile app to collect non-Facebook (phone call) data is bad. Some regulation would probably be good for everybody. But I’m also reminded of one of my uncle’s favorite sayings: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

In the internet age, many people have the idea that there actually are infinite free lunches. Platforms like Facebook and Youtube give us access to unlimited entertainment — enough to last a lifetime. And all this entertainment comes free of charge. It sounds like a good deal, but is it really?

There’s always a cost, even when it’s hidden. Just like the proverbial free lunch, we’re actually paying, just not in cash. With Facebook and social media, we pay with our privacy. In exchange for all the amusing videos, articles, and updates, we are selling ourselves. Everything we watch, read, forward, comment on, or like is recorded, and those records don’t belong to us.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and other tech companies are worth hundreds of billions of dollars because they’re extremely good at monetizing personal data. They capture our attention, encourage us to reveal our (formerly) private selves, and they track our tastes, opinions, desires, networks, and perhaps our whole personalities. This data is a goldmine because it makes us much easier to sell to.

This isn’t news, and it limits my outrage when I hear that Facebook data has ended up in the “wrong” hands. I just assume that what I do on social media enters the public domain, forever. Privacy controls ought to mean more, but they just don’t, and I’m not convinced that they will in the foreseeable future.

Social media does have many wonderful qualities. It’s a powerful tool that can help us stay in touch with family, friends, colleagues, and communities, across time and space. If you have something you really want to share, there’s no better way to make your voice heard. At Alliance, we use social media to connect with our investors and partners in a way that was not possible before. The benefits are real, and I don’t want to give them up. But we also need to remember the costs.

Facebook isn’t going anywhere. It’s an awesome platform that I use all the time. But it isn’t free, and never will be.

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