The Nonexistent Facebook Democracy Is Now Gone for Good
December 11, 2012
The polls are now closed – and with that, your right to vote on how Facebook uses your personal information has been taken away. In case you missed it, the good news is that your vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway; the vote was a sham, set up to fail from the start. The bad news is that little has actually changed: Facebook still owns your personal information, controls your digital self, and it’s too late to turn back.
In the end, the measure to keep the current version of the user agreement fell short by more than 299 million votes. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Facebook had a requirement that at least 30% of its one billion users had to vote down the proposal, so there was little hope anyway. But, of those that did participate, a staggering 88% voted against the changes.
The citizens of Facebook have lost what little voice they had to begin with, and now their government can unilaterally amend the constitution as it sees fit.
This is how things have always been anyway; Facebook rarely ever consults you before manipulating and selling your personal information. This year, they have begun to quietly allow advertisers to target you directly, instead of trying to cater to the general audience you’re a part of. They have expanded their scope by tracking what you do on other websites across the Internet – they are even trying to learn what you are buying offline. They have also just recently settled a lawsuit for using your identity to “sponsor” products without your permission or knowledge.
If it were any other company, you could just stop buying its product – but that’s not how things work with social media.
Facebook has become a part of everyday life, to the point where it is viewed with suspicion if you choose to not take part in the network. While the company can now claim that “voter apathy” was the reason for today’s changes – the truth of the matter is that users absolutely do care about how their information is used. Last week, like many times before, our news feeds filled with people posting an obscure, legally meaningless status update demanding some limits for how their data is used. Instead of taking the widespread concern to heart, Facebook responded with a dismissive “fact-check” to remind you that you do not have any additional protections besides what they decide to give you.
For years the company has been working hard to win the online identification race. If Facebook can serve as your “gateway” to the internet, they secure the leading role in determining how commerce, communication and social interaction takes place. That is why it has made a policy of forcing you to use your real name, even going to the lengths of asking your friends to verify your personal information to make sure you are being truthful. The millions of photos that users upload every day are Facebook’s property – when they decide they want to sell them, or use facial recognition to see who is in them, you don’t have a say in the matter.
At a conference in 2008, CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for the future of social media – he explained that he “would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.”
In Facebook’s “hacker” culture of rapid experimentation, we are all test subjects, and what we see and how we interact with the people around us are the variables. Since its botched IPO earlier this year, the company has been under intense pressure to show just how well they can monetize our information – and given their recent performance, this will only become a more desperate situation. Whatever Facebook does eventually replace the current voting system with, there is one fundamental thing that will not change: you will still be the product, not the customer.
Also appeared in: