Examining Facebook and the case for privacy

What happens when a major social media platform's business model abuses user trust?

RITA GUNTHER MCGRATH: I got interested in Facebook oh, this is probably going back a few years now and when I proposed using Facebook as an example in the book my editor actually said whoa, you think Facebook is going to have a problem? And I said I mean if you believe in early warnings, yes, because all the handwriting was on the wall in the sense of you have a very insular senior team. You have an addictive and very, very profitable business model that's based on questionable respect for people's privacy. You have many, many users who really don't understand what their data is being used for. They don't understand that Facebook owns it. I mean you think you own that baby picture you posted. You don't. They do. And they're basically asking you to sign away your rights for that kind of content that you create yourself.

So, you've got this business model, which I honestly think has run away with the founders. I don't think the founders of Facebook and its senior team kind of expected the unintended consequences. So the ability to use their targeting tools to influence elections, for example, or to flout laws like the Fair Housing Act. As a landlord, for example, you can post advertisements on Facebook that are actually illegal. But we haven't figured out how to regulate them. And I'm not saying Facebook is inherently an evil organization. I do think that they have in many cases abused people's trust and their willingness to do so is indicated very, very early on in one of the earliest investigations of Facebook's practices and email that I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg never intended to see the light of day was revealed in which he said oh, you know, if you want to know anything about students at Harvard just ask. And his counterpart said how do you get all this stuff? He said they just gave it to me. And then a few expletives after that. It's indicative of an attitude about privacy that I think is only now coming to be commonly understood. I think it has the potential to get the company in real trouble.

  • Facebook has been in plenty of hot water lately with user data scandal.
  • Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath says the early warning signs were there when considering the social media platform's business model and attitude toward user privacy.
  • When users don't understand the extent of content ownership, and the platform they're using is willing to abuse that trust, a lot can go wrong.

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(Photo from Wikimedia)
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