Facebooks’s New Algorithm Raises New Privacy Concerns

A Professor's Perspective On Current Events

By Professor Paul Rosenzweig, M.S.

Facebook changes their algorithm again and questions of privacy arise (again). Who is really the consumer and what is really the product? Professor Paul Rosenzweig discusses the topic.

This article originally premiered on The Atlantic.

Facebook is in the news again, with yet more reports about how its algorithms use your Facebook clicks and likes to build a profile of your behavior. The latest salvo in the skirmish is a new extension called “GoRando” that randomizes your clicks – so that if you hit “Like” you might actually register “Sad” or “Angry” instead. This can confuse Facebook (who may now think that you hate the Washington Nationals instead of liking them, as I do) but it will also confuse your friends, who will wonder at your change of heart.

For myself, by this point, I am beginning to wonder if anyone is paying attention? After all, Facebook is free. How do people think that happens? Do they really believe there is a free lunch? Do they really not recognize that Facebook is collecting data so that it can push ads out that match your interests?

This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.

I suppose that is possible. There may well be consumers who still don’t realize the dynamic. So let’s be clear – Facebook is a producer of information and YOU are the product.  They manufacturer information about you and sell it. In return you get a free service and great convenience. The same thing is true of almost every other social media and search firm around.  Google remembers who you are and Uber knows all about where you travel.

If that concerns you (and it may) then … just stop using social media.  Or use systems that don’t remember you – like the search engine Duck Duck Go.  But remember what that means – the end of free stuff and less efficient service.  How much would you actually pay for a service like Google if they charged money, but didn’t collect information?  It would probably be hundreds of dollars a year, if not more.

Next time you hear about Facebook and worry think of that – and ask yourself whether this is wonderful convenience or a Faustian bargain.

For more with Professor Rosenzweig, check out “The Surveillance State” on the Great Courses Plus!