Facebook is under scrutiny following revelations that the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected data on millions of users and the Federal Trade Commission has said it is investigating Facebook over its privacy practices. The social media giant has announced plans to revamp its privacy tools to allow users to more easily navigate privacy and security settings, but those changes won’t alter the company’s core business model, which relies on user data, according to a communication researcher at Cornell University.
Natalie Bazarova is associate professor of communication at Cornell University and director of the Social Media Lab. She says that the best way to protect social media users is through public education and awareness-raising.
“There are some small steps that Facebook can take that might help build trust. For example, Facebook could make its data sharing and advertising policies much clearer to users, be more transparent about what data is shared with apps and third parties, and make privacy settings easier for users to understand and modify. They could also change their default privacy settings to allow users to opt in to sharing their information, rather than asking them to make an effort to opt out of it.
“However, the problem at the center of Facebook's current trouble goes much deeper. The company's business model, like that of other major internet companies such as Google, requires that it collect information about its users so that it can accurately target ads. In many respects, it's in Facebook's best interest to allow users to continue unwittingly sharing data, and to allow third parties to take advantage of that data.
“In this regard, public education and awareness-raising relating to online privacy can help individual users protect themselves. Users need to be aware that when it comes to the internet, there's no free lunch. If you're not paying for a product or service with cash, you're paying for it with your data.”