On May 3rd, Consumers Union hosted "Facebook and Your Privacy: What every Consumer Should Know” from 6-8:45pm at New York University in New York City.
Featured speakers include Alfredo Lopez, co-founder of May First/People Link, a MAG-Net member and leader in the open source technology/culture movement.
MAG-Net brought a delegation to the event which included out-of-town MAG-Net members, Nick Szuberla of Working Narratives, a lead partner on our Prison Phone Justice organizing effort and Laura Muraida of Southwest Workers Union, our MAG-Net co-anchor of our San Antonio chapter in Texas.
Their attendance was made possible by the generous support from the Ford Foundation.
Below are Nick and Laura's reflections on the event and a video excerpt of Alfredo's presentation.
Consumer Reports: Privacy on Facebook by Nick Szuberla (of Working Narratives)
I was invited to walk through a forest near my home in rural, Eastern Kentucky, by a group of logging company executives and environmentalists. As we passed beneath a lush canopy of chestnut oaks and beech, the small talk told the story: The company executives mused over the number of boards and feet that could be cleaved from the landscape, the environmentalists over its biological diversity and vibrant ecosystem. Same forest, radically different viewpoints and agendas.
I was reminded of this stroll last week, as I watched advertisers and public media advocates lock horns over an upcoming report in the June issue of Consumer Reports— “Protect Your Privacy"—that tells how 13 million U.S. Facebook users don’t use privacy controls. It was certainly an apt topic. The world has more Facebook accounts than it has cars, and the digital superpower is the most visited site on the Internet, not to mention a financial behemoth. Facebook recently set an IPO price range that values the company at up to $96 billion. But as the report pointed out, Facebook gives us more than the power of the "Like button" and a story of furious and exponential financial growth, it gives us the opportunity to become exquisitely vulnerable with our lives.
Tucked away in a New York University conference room in Lower Manhattan, the two groups sat on a small raised stage with a podium between them. The room was packed. Interestingly and perhaps somewhat creepily, in the second to the front row was a Facebook employee, Facebook declined to be on the panel, but had nevertheless taken the train in from Washington, D.C. He sat through the presentation straightbacked and silent.
Craig Newmark of Craigslist warmed up the crowd with a power point presentation."I try to think of myself as the Lady Gaga of nerds." he started out, but then quickly grew serious: “Do you trust the practices of online communities?" he wanted to know. Newmark argued that "trust is the new black." Corporations are contouring the internet in ways that will demand people share more and more personal information. In order to resist, Newmark suggested that, among other things, users take up lobbying.The Internet is burning, Newmak explained, “maybe we need a volunteer fire department.”
Consumer Reports study found that the majority of U.S. Facebook users who are concerned about privacy use the sites privacy settings to defend against unwanted intersocial incursions, but points out that such protections don't go far enough. Congress needs to pass a national privacy law that would shield consumers from being tracked online.
But from the perspective of the advertisers on hand, such regulation would hurt the economy and enfantilize citizens. Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.Org argued in blog response to the report that pushing for new laws as solution “perpetuates a false dependency at a time when laws are less and less of a solution.” And young people, the advertising folks pointed out, are “less concerned by privacy. Public media advocates pushed back that it's a myth that young people don't care about privacy. One college student certainly did, she asked the panel a pretty pointed question that, in an economy of growing disparities and swelling student loan debts, momentarily hushed the room: “How long until collection companies start using social media to stalk us? “ The student had injected the micromechanics of everyday life into a largely theoretical discussion, reminding the audience that the Internet was actually made up of people.
"Privacy goes beyond our protection as consumers into our functionality as citizens" Alfredo Lopez of May First/People remarked later.“Its the people that give the Internet its power!”
The full Consumer Reports Facebook report can be found online at consumerreports.org.
“Facebook and Your Privacy” May 3 Event at NYU by Laura Muraida (of Southwest Workers Union)
There was a good amount of jargon thrown around at last week’s “Facebook and Your Privacy” event– talk of data mining, commercial surveillance systems, etc. The average Facebook user may not even realize we were talking about them. And that was the point. According to Consumer Reports, 13 million Facebook users have never set privacy controls, and even those who have set them have little understanding of how their data (their profile) is used regardless of their privacy settings.
So what does this really mean? Well, Mark Zuckerberg may still maintain that everyone’s personal data that Facebook has uncontrolled access to is part of his goal of “making the world more open and connected”; but apparently “open” does not mean transparent. While much has been written about the Internet as a tool of the decentralization of communications and of democracy itself, a technological and legal literacy gap still exists that keeps the majority of social media users in the dark. That is, most Facebook users don’t currently realize how much of their data they can’t control, what is done with it, how, and who benefits from all this “sharing” (For example- did you know insurance companies and the IRS can mine social media data?). Most users probably do not know what data mining is, and even fewer users know about any legal protections available (myself included). This literacy gap is even wider in communities with language, educational, or age barriers or other day-to-day struggles that outweigh these types of nebulous issues.
But the social media industry is moving forward with or without these folks’ (full) consent. And the industry does not currently provide the transparency social media users need to make informed decisions.
So what does it mean to my community in San Antonio and the low-income workers, families, and youth we organize here? It means that labor organizers do not have full confidentiality when using social media to communicate. It means that undocumented community members may disclose their immigration status to more people than they intend or put themselves in danger. It means that young people preparing for college may be unknowingly evaluated based on their profile information. While this may sound alarmist (I’m not ready to delete my Facebook account yet), it really underscores the need for media education and policy reform to prevent industry from taking advantage of its usual targets– low-income people of color, and especially those with limited technological literacy skills. And for me, this wake up call ultimately highlights the need for more non-corporate media channels that are controlled by the public that actually use them. Alfredo Lopez said it well: “privacy isn’t contradictory to inclusiveness.”