The following reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
If you want to strap a parachute to your body and throw yourself out of a plane, you have to do some paperwork first. And before you do the paperwork, you have to watch an informational video.
When you go skydiving, you’re presented with the potential risks upfront. In fact, the bulk of the experience is spent familiarizing yourself with the safety measures that go into leaping out of a moving aircraft and surviving the fall.
You know what you’re signing up for.
With Facebook, most people also know what they’re signing up for — to an extent.
Joining Facebook is, obviously, much easier than arranging a skydiving trip. You can set up a profile in less than five minutes — trust us, we timed the process on Monday afternoon. Enter your name, email, password, birthday and you have an account.
Facebook does not present you with its information policies outright; you have to look for them. When you manage to nail a page down (try facebook.com/privacy/explanation), it’s long enough that your average user isn’t going to take the time out of their day to comprehend it.
Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about the Cambridge Analytica breach (in which the political data firm accessed over 50 million users’ information while working for President Trump’s campaign). Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook put users’ privacy at risk during the 2016 presidential campaign, but defended his company.
It’s understood that, when you use Facebook (or any social media platform), what you choose to post is public in some way. But unless you regularly venture down to the bottom of your homepage and explore the company’s privacy policies on your own, it’s easy to forget that your posts aren’t the only thing Facebook keeps tabs on.
Our editor-in-chief downloaded all the information that facebook has collected on him (That’s something you can do, by the way: Go to the settings page and there should be a little green button). He doesn’t use Facebook much. Our opinion editor, who uses facebook regularly, has never seen him post.
His Facebook data dump showed that 215 different advertisers used lists that contained his contact info, including HBO, the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas Motor Speedway (he’s never been to Texas) and the Department of Homeland Security.
A lot of us made Facebook accounts in middle school. It’s not our fault that we didn’t realize how much we were actually signing up for, and it’s not our parents’ fault for letting us do that. How were they supposed to know, either?
Facebook is great for a lot of reasons (sharing photos with your friends, talking to long-distance family members) and bad for others (procrastinating, checking up on your ex, data breaches).
We aren’t advocating that you go delete your account right now. We’re also not imploring you to go watch Zuckerberg’s testimony, because it’s six hours long (a lot of which is him explaining how the internet works to confounded congressmen, and chances are you already know that not all apps and websites are connected).
But know that your personal information has value not just to you, but to tens of thousands of advertisers (including, apparently, the Texas Motor Speedway). Be aware of where your data are going when you use social media — and that, when you do use Facebook, your spring break photos and summer internship announcements are not the only thing you’re putting out there.