Last week, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg travelled to Capitol Hill to testify regarding the company’s knowledge about political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which improperly accessed and obtained the information of more than 50 million Facebook users. He spent two days giving testimony to Congress, answering questions ranging from his personal stance on teen social media use to how Facebook gathers users’ data.

The recent Cambridge Analytica breach is one of Facebook’s largest gaffes in company history, and it has galvanized a companywide review of how the social media giant collects and shares user data with third parties, including developers, advertisers and governments.

However, consumers must now realize that incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica emerged partly because of Facebook’s business model, which is underpinned by profit-maximizing incentives. Such breaches will be repeated if consumers and industries are careless. We users must become informed about not only the benefits of the products we use, but also the information and data we willingly give up.

The landscape of social media services and businesses is broad and diverse. While Facebook is the largest social media platform, prominent platforms also include Twitter, which has 330 million average monthly users; YouTube, on which 5 billion videos are watched daily; and Reddit, which averaged over 1.5 billion page views per month in 2017.

Even with these many choices, we must acknowledge the discrepancy between social media’s benign promises and business-driven reality. At the core, many social media businesses claim to serve a public good: connecting individuals across the web and creating deeper, more fulfilling online interactions.  

For example, Facebook claims to serve as a community for everyone. Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey believes the company is meant to connect people through dialogues and discourse, and Reddit’s founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian claim their site’s purpose is to provide users with a platform for finding communities that cater to particular interests and passions.

Yet  users must understand the sacrifice the promise of social media requires. These platforms, products and services collect user data, profile information, browsing behavior and broader interests to serve profit-maximizing goals, particularly by working with advertisers and marketers. In Facebook’s business model, for instance, user data, profile information and web browsing are collected; the company, when approached by advertisers, uses the data to target users with specific ads.

While it is not evil for a company to find a way to monetize user data, Facebook inadvertently left backdoors in its platform that developers — like Cambridge Analytica — could exploit to gather data users never authorized to be shared.

In its quest to become a leader in harnessing users’ data, Facebook did not discover these flaws until they were exploited. Moreover, Facebook only alerted users about the widespread breach after public attention swelled and Congress asked for answers.

The rush to collect and monetize users’ data is a goal for large social media firms, and they are attempting to improve such strategies while retaining users. Facebook is investing heavily in artificial intelligence to improve its data collection and analysis capabilities.

Similarly, the Chinese social media giant WeChat is adding features and functionalities to maintain a large pool of users, whether by adding direct shopping capabilities to allow users to send cryptocurrencies, or even hail taxis, all while the company is facing criticism for how it shares user information with Chinese government agencies.

Even as social media services continue to innovate data monetization, users are not completely subject to their control and influence. Consumers should at the minimum receive more transparent and clear explanations of how data is used and monetized.

Members of Congress — and even Zuckerberg himself — have proposed regulations on data collection and user privacy rights to protect user information. Such activity is already happening across Europe, where lawmakers passed legislation this year to restrict how personal data is handled, marking a new win for consumers’ protection.

Consumers and lawmakers should also lobby for an independent task force to, in Facebook’s case, see how extensive inappropriate user data access is. That task force could serve as a model for other social media companies that collect sensitive user data, leading to general guidelines and rules that can become industry standard.  

Cambridge Analytica is not the first company to improperly access user data, nor will it be the last. Whether through regulation, an industry task force or voluntary transparency measures, users can use their leverage as the lifeblood of social media to exercise their voices in this conversation.

In the end, our clicks can determine the future of our relationships with social media. We should not end the conversation after a company merely apologizes for its wrongdoing.

Humza Moinuddin is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final installment of Ones and Zeros.

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