Analyst: Facebook Is Not The Enemy
GUY RAZ, host:
We asked to speak with a Facebook representative. The company declined but sent a statement that said: In the coming weeks, Facebook plans to address some of the concerns raised by privacy advocates.
Meantime, they referred us to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Daniel Castro is a senior analyst there and he joins me from Atlanta.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. DANIEL CASTRO (Senior Analyst, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation): Thanks for having me on.
RAZ: Do you believe that because Facebook is a free service that the company has the right to use information about its users as it wishes?
Mr. CASTRO: No, I don't think they have the right to use the information as they want. I do think that they have a responsibility to disclose to users how they're going to use that information. And I think they've done a decent job of doing that, although there's been a lot of confusion lately because of the changes they've implemented.
RAZ: I mean, you say confusion, but when a lot of people signed up to Facebook, you know, they didn't necessarily know that all of those things they filled out, gender and marital status and age and the jobs they had, they didn't know that all of that would one day be used to build profiles for advertisers.
Mr. CASTRO: With Facebook, they're not actually selling users' information, which is, I think, the number one misconception out there. They're not giving away any kind of information to advertisers. What they're doing is they're selling targeted advertising based on the information they have about you.
RAZ: Right. I mean, they're sort of building kind of categories of people.
Mr. CASTRO: Right. Well, they're building demographic profiles about people, the same as any program you watch on TV has a demographic profile about who watches the television show. The difference is on the Internet, you can be more targeted.
RAZ: I mean, you say that they're not passing along our personal data, our individual profile data, to advertisers, but as you know, and as we just heard on this program, they were doing this as late as last week, whether it was inadvertent or not. So why is it enough for us to just trust that Facebook will never pass along or sell our individual data when, you know, we all know it has the power to do that?
Mr. CASTRO: Well, I think there's a couple of interesting things here with the Wall Street Journal article that we heard about. For one, what Facebook was doing there and what other companies were doing in this instance was something that wasn't specific to advertisers.
On the Internet in general, when you click a link, it shows the website to which you go to where you came from. So in this case, because you came from a Facebook page, in some instances, your user ID, which is something Facebook considers public, would be passed on to any website that you clicked a link to go to that website.
RAZ: But then that advertiser can use your user ID to find out what public information you have out there, and a lot of people don't really know that they don't have that hidden.
Mr. CASTRO: Well, there's two things. First of all, they can only find out public information about you. Second of all, no advertiser has said they've done this. And third, this would actually go against Facebook's terms of service for its advertisers. So if any advertisers did this, they would actually be breaking the terms of service with Facebook.
RAZ: But we know that Facebook can do that. I mean, they're saying this was a software bug, but we know that they can do that. Is it enough for us, the users, to just trust Facebook, or should there be some kind of regulation?
Mr. CASTRO: Well, you actually have a choice right now. You have an option of not using them and going to another software company who is going to make that promise to you. But I think in general, we don't need government regulation of this space because government regulation would actually impose speed bumps in innovation, and that's what we don't want.
I think what we've seen is there's a very narrow group of people, privacy fundamentalists, that value privacy over all other values. And what they want to do is set a single standard for all users that's imposed by government.
I don't think it's right for a number of reasons, but in particular, people have very different value systems. Some people want to share as much information as possible because they get a better experience on the Internet. And I think we should allow companies to do that.
RAZ: That's Daniel Castro. He's a senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He joined us from WABE in Atlanta.
Daniel Castro, thanks so much.
Mr. CASTRO: Thanks for having me.
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