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.”
Laura Muraida is Mass Base Political Organizer at Southwest Workers Union