TEXAS VIEW: Facebook fears are overblown

By The Lufkin News Writer

One of our editorial board members logged into Facebook Tuesday morning only to be greeted by a notification that one of her friends had used the social network to log into the now-banned personality quiz app “This Is Your Digital Life.” The notification went on to explain that, as a result, such information as her public profile, page likes, birthday and current city were likely shared with Cambridge Analytica, a political data-mining firm.

As many as 87 million Facebook users who might have had their data shared received that same message. (Facebook users who didn’t receive the notice can check the platform’s help page to confirm they weren’t affected.)

Much hand-wringing has ensued over this issue, but when you really think about it, it’s not that big of a deal. Yes, regulation is needed, and users should have to consent to have their data collected and shared. But you think Facebook knows a lot about you? We’re willing to bet Google knows more. And it’s not restricted to the internet: rewards cards at stores, any purchase you make in which you’re first asked to divulge your ZIP code or phone number — all those things are collecting information about you and your shopping habits, often resulting in targeted coupons in the mail or on the back of your receipt.

Targeted ads are nothing new to anyone who surfs the web with any regularity (especially when shopping), and certainly aren’t restricted to Facebook or any third-party apps. And when it comes down to it, if you’re going to have ads show up in your newsfeed, wouldn’t you rather they be for products and services that specifically interest you? The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn said it best when describing microtargeting in a recent column: “(It’s) creepy, useful and, as a regular reminder that Big Data is always watching, usefully creepy.”

We freely agree to give away all manner of personal information any time we take any of those stupid, time-wasting quizzes on Facebook anyway, so why the sudden overblown concern that somebody now knows you’re a 58-year old male from Diboll who “likes” French’s mustard, Brad Keselowski and Sonic? And while we know better now than to take those juvenile quizzes, who among us hasn’t given into temptation at some point in the past to get the answers to such nagging questions as “What Font Are You?” or “Which SEC Team Are You?” or to just once and for all determine which “Godfather,” “Facts of Life” or “Entourage” character you are?

The point we’re trying to make is that there’s nothing new going on here and you’ve likely given away your own information freely more than once. But when it’s information you share with your (insert number of hundreds) Facebook “friends” anyway, is it really all that private?

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg recently took out full-page apology ads in seven British newspapers and three American ones, including The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. (Interestingly, businesses say they don’t need to advertise because they have a Facebook page, yet the man who invented Facebook advertises in print.) The ads state that the company has already stopped third-party apps from “getting so much information” and that Facebook has started “limiting the data apps get when you sign up.”

In the meantime, users can go to “settings” then “apps and websites” and remove the third-party apps they don’t want. But your data is out there, and it’s been out there, so don’t freak out if you were one of the 87 million swept up in the Cambridge Analytica brouhaha. Big Brother’s watching all of us — and has been for quite some time.