Why GDPR might do nothing to empower users in relation to Facebook etc.

In the United States, Facebook effectively demands that users waive their right to privacy if they want to use the platform, while at the same time U.S. law guarantees Facebook the right to keep much of its company data private, such as who it sells user information on to and for how much, and information about the algorithms it uses to manipulate users.

There is thus a practical ‘inequality of privacy’ where Facebook the company and Facebook’s users are concerned.

One approach to improving equality in relation to privacy is to demand that ordinary citizens have the right to demand that companies such as Facebook do not store and use their data. As I understand it, this is what implementation of GDPR win Europe gave Facebook users in European countries the right to demand.

HOWEVER, having explored this, Facebook has deliberately designed it’s presentation of GDPR to its users to guide them into accepting that Facebook is allowed to use their data in the same way its always used it – to sell the information onto advertisers, to target you with ads, and to modify your news feed.

It does with the age old net technique of the ‘large accept button’ and the ‘small manage your options button’.

It also seems that the only way you can get Facebook to actually bin your data, is by deleting your account, which means you cannot use Facebook.

This article by Tech Crunch does a fantastic job of outlining Facebook’s minimal GDRP compliance.

Given that Facebook depends on this data to sell advertising, which accounts for > 90% of its  then I guess this is no real surprise.

And of course GPDR only applies in Europe. Meanwhile in America (for example) U.S. law still gives Facebook the right to do whatever it wants with your data once you’ve given it up!

Is demanding more privacy the right approach anyway?

This is something Fuchs (2017) questions in his excellent book: Social Media a Critical Introduction.

Following Solove (2008), he points out that he finds out that there is a tendency to associate greater individual privacy with positive values such as autonomy, democracy, creativity, dignity, and well-being.

HOWEVER, the problem with this approach is that increasing amounts of individual privacy does nothing to redress the inequalities that come with allowing companies to keep their economic data private.

Fuchs suggests that if we’re interested in greater equality, possibly what we need is less economic privacy of the kind that allows large corporations the right to hide their business dealings away. Maybe what we need is the right for individuals and unions to have access to company accounts and the background dealings of the powerful?

Of course whether that’s practical is another matter, especially when economic privacy is one of the backbones of modern capitalism!

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