The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Time internet giants rethink data sharing


April 4, 2018

It’s easy to forget how young the Silicon Valley companies that dominate so much of our lives really are. One need be only a freshman in high school to have been born in a time before Facebook existed. And a baby delivered on the day Google was incorporated would turn 20 only this September.

In just the single lifespan of a teenager, those two firms — along with many other competitors and allies — have generated riches and international clout to rival the nation’s grandest commercial enterprises. Ad sales made Google’s parent company the fifth-most-profitable in the U.S. last year, and Facebook’s ads drove it to $10 billion in profits as well, enough to rank 20th among the Fortune 500.

Vast as these companies are, it’s not the dollars involved that reveal how deeply embedded they have become in our lives. Some 1.4 billion people worldwide use Facebook daily. Google conducts as many as 40,000 searches per second.

In addition to greatly enriching the firms, this ubiquity has also created whole new digital economies and marketplaces for countless other companies. For the rest of us, it has provided constant and often extraordinarily helpful services and conveniences.

And it’s all been free of charge. In lieu of payment, the companies ask merely for us to provide a peek into our most private lives and telling habits. We provide real-time information about families, friends, our likes and dislikes, locations, travel, eating, drinking, reading and viewing habits — and much more.

In short, we consent to be not their customer, but their product. They sell to third parties an opportunity to sell us things, to tell us all kinds of stories — true or trivial or just made up — and to influence our behavior as consumers and citizens.

For many, it has seemed a healthy exchange. You keep me in touch with my friends, long-lost cousins and classmates, and I’ll let you have access to everything you want to know in order to sell my attention to your clients.

But the tides are turning. Many have been outraged by revelations that Russians and others have exploited Facebook’s close knowledge of we, the users, to further inflame our public discourse, and how third-parties unscrupulously used users’ personal data without their consent.

In its wake, more of us are second-guessing our relationship with Facebook, and with the countless other firms that trade access to our private lives for their otherwise free services.

Most Americans aren’t ready to cut ties to their social media sources. But the companies would be foolish to ignore this moment of recalibration.

The companies, and the users and everyone involved, should commit to auditing these relationships, if they are to remain healthy.

— The Dallas Morning News


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