I started to get a little wigged-out by Facebook last year sometime, when the list of “People you may know” began to include contacts from my WhatsApp messages. The weirdest part was that the people Facebook said I knew, were people I had WhatsApped but didn’t know at all.
The first was a lady who crashed into us on a road trip somewhere in Africa. She’d threatened me on WhatsApp a few times about an insurance claim. No friends in common. No shared groups. Nothing. Facebook told me she was a person I may know.
The second was a wonderful guide who’d taken us on a hike in a game reserve somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He had WhatsApped me to thank us for the generous tip we’d given him. He lived in a small village in the bush. Facebook told me he was a person I may know.
Coincidence? I doubted it.
I started to connect the dots and ask important questions about my online privacy
I then learned that Facebook had acquired WhatsApp for $19-billion in February 2014 — around the time all this went on.
And although Facebook swore to keep WhatsApp’s original user agreements in place, I started to connect the dots and ask important questions about my online privacy — something I’d always assumed was protected, surely?
Then again, there’s so much legal fine-print and privacy tech-talk going on these days; it’s easier to turn a blind eye and keep living our lives online. In any case, what does it matter if Facebook knows that I drank a Starbucks Latte and did my Christmas shopping at Cap 3000?
The truth is — we’ve become a society that over-shares on a ginormous scale. You do it and I do it. Sometimes — we don’t even know we’re doing it. Through text, photos and video, we tell Facebook about our most intimate selves: where we work, where we live, where we are, what we do, what we studied, what we like, what we don’t like, who our friends are. We give away our most precious and private moments like engagements and weddings and child births. We upload photos of our children and other people’s children, who — quite frankly — had no choice whether their lives ought to be consumed by others or sold for commercial gain.
The truth is — we’ve become a society that over-shares on a ginormous scale
And we don’t discuss any of this because it’s just kind of assumed that we’re all going to share the shit out of our lives because that’s just how life has become.
At the end of the day — who am I to say what goes on behind closed doors at Silicon Valley or why Facebook’s buying up the big dogs like WhatsApp and Instagram? Facebook’s only trying to do business by pleasing their shareholders and making more money; and they do that by knowing more about who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re doing it. What’s the problem with that?
Perhaps the blame lies squarely with us for giving Facebook exactly what it wants and handing over tons and tons of free and freshly-served personal data. We don’t see the problem because we’re just so programmed to share, and share, and share, without thinking twice about where our information ends up and how it’s used.
If it’s Facebook’s fault for finding new ways to farm data or our boo-boo for over-sharing and putting privacy in the backseat, the point is this: our privacy is now a commodity and we’re doing very little to protect it.
Heck! I’m thinking. When did this all get so complicated? I’m just an expat who wants to share my life with friends and family I don’t get to see everyday and Facebook seemed like the best way to do it. And here I am, lying in bed, night-after-night, with this data-scraping, audience hungry, advertiser-pleasing brute and I’m really not too bothered about it. How did I get here and what’s the solution? Should I get off Facebook entirely? Or resort to updating my friends via Gmail where the same skulduggery is going on? Or should I just accept that this is how it is nowadays, step in line and share like no one’s watching?
We don’t see the problem because we’re just so programmed to share, and share, and share…
To get off Facebook entirely is probably a bit draconian, especially for self-employed people like me who use the platform to my benefit and put out information that grows my interests. That’s when the platform makes a lot of sense. But then I look at the thousands of personal photos and updates and comments I’ve given Facebook over the years and I start to feel a little niggle in my stomach. By now, it’s too late and I can’t take any of it back.
I suppose the solution lies somewhere between sharing just enough and not too much; being present online but not over-indulging in the sweet temptations of over-share. We can’t rely on data regulations to protect us because the privacy yardstick is ever-changing and adjustments are made bit-by-bit, over time, so we don’t notice them at all. Online privacy has to be our responsibility and it starts in the moment we post.
I can’t take back what I’ve told Facebook since I joined nearly ten years ago but I can control what I share from here on out. And I can promise you, it won’t be much.
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