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How many ‘likes’ does it take to build a dystopia? We’re about to find out.

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Collect the data and they will come. They, in the case of Facebook and other social media sites, being mainly advertisers. Oh, and also the government. Most social media sites are in the business of collecting data on its users to make money, but Facebook’s market dominance and the amount and type of data the company is able to collect puts it on another level altogether. What are we giving up when we sign into our social media accounts?

Once, social media sites like Facebook were largely seen as supporting democratic institutions. These digital forums provided users a place to exercise their First Amendment rights and connect with a larger audience to exchange and debate ideas. Mark Zuckerberg has stated that Facebook’s own goal is to create and promote community. Yet increasingly, social media sites and the data they create are being used to target activists and build sophisticated databases via what ProPublica dubbed “black-box” algorithms.

How many ‘likes’ does it take to build a dystopia? We’re about to find out.
How many ‘likes’ does it take to build a dystopia? We’re about to find out.

Currently Facebook has over 2 billion users each month. Each user has to give Facebook a smattering of information to create a profile — your name, email, birth date etc. But once you’re in the network, Zuckerberg and co. start building a much more in-depth picture of you. Indeed, without needing additional informed consent, Facebook is constantly collecting data on everything you do on its site as well as tracking you when you’re on other websites that leverage the Facebook platform.

Everything you click on, everything you like, every picture you view, every Facebook profile you visit, every person that is your Facebook friend, and on and on becomes data to be collected, stored, and analyzed. Even the people you meet offline can be tracked by Facebook.

This adds up to a lot of information currently in the hands of a company that has already proven not to always be the best arbiter of users’ privacy. The organization I work for, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), has highlighted Facebook’s multiple privacy issues over the years and filed subsequent complaints with Federal Trade Commission.

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