Since Facebook became a public entity in 2012, the financial data for incorporation was revealed and the public was astonished that the Social Networking Site (SNS) was solely dependent on advertising. According to the study, Facebook received a considerable revenue from advertisement revenue of 98.3 per cent in 2009, 94.6 per cent in 2010 and 85 per cent in 2011 respectively (Allmer, Fuchs, Kreilinger, & Sevignani, 2005). A subsequent investigation titled “Social Networking Sites in the Surveillance Society” that was undertaken for 30 months described that there is a complex information flow associated with the usage of Facebook through the surveillance networks that make users vulnerable whenever they are on the SNS. This realization has thus created the need for a critical review of the impact of being watched while on interactive media with ethical issues being raised in the process. Amid the supposed positive benefit of use SNS for networking, the engagement on the sites has been associated with security breaches, misuse of surveillance advantages by government officials, and a trend of digital labor that have all made users more vulnerable.
Privacy Online and Third-Party Security Compromise
The subject of privacy is one of the most contentious issues in that it is associated with the use of networking services that are indispensable in the present generation but whose privacy is not guaranteed. In the process of SNSs carrying out surveillance, the users’ confidential data may be compromised usually with adverse consequences to the user (Allmer et al., 2005). There have been many incidences of the privacy of the user being jeopardized in the past which raises the question of the necessity of surveillance systems.
One notable case involved the police making use of a surveillance tool to scan the social media of the public (Browich, Victor, & Isaac, 2016). A Chicago-based company, Geofreedia, has been reported to use program that SNS such as Facebook and Twitter offset to create a software that makes app makers create third party tools. A lawyer with the ACLU Matt Coles responded to the allegations by issuing the statement that the posts that people make on social media ended up revealing crucial information about the religion, location and one’s close allies (Browich et al., 2016). While the users of social media are opposed to the idea of the government monitoring such information, they are in many cases unable to control the information that is accessed by such parties.
Thus, even though the government may not use the information for unscrupulous purposes, however, the concern gets to the examination of how other companies such as Geofreedia manipulate the privacy data. For Geofreedia, the information obtained from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and nine other SNS was used for allowing users to search for content in a particular location as opposed to the non-specific mechanism involving the use of hashtags (Browich et al., 2016). The company ended up selling its data to over 500 clients especially the law enforcement agencies which are against ethical consideration of user privacy. Instagram and Facebook terminated the company’s access to their information, but it is evident that there is an increased vulnerability from the use of SNS (Browich et al., 2016).
Free Labor from Being Watched
The other major concern that is associated with the use of interactive media is that the SNS companies are using their surveillance systems to exploits the user by making them virtual free laborers. Users of such media sites are unaware that the act of logging in and following posts is a method of creating economic value for the company (Andrejevic, 2002). While the user thinks that they are making use of their leisure activity to engage with their social circles, the company exploits the opportunity for the generation of profit (Land & Böhm, 2012).
The understanding of the scheme involved is conceptualized by examining the manner in which publishers make their revenue. Instead of a majority of the profit being the sale of newspapers, such media companies obtain much of their income through the production of an audience of readers and the readership of the product. It is a similar case to watching the television where the audience is not likely to pay for the service, but through the act of watching, the company considers it as free labor (Land & Böhm, 2012). For Facebook and other SNS, the case is similar because in the process of updating one’s status, sending friends requests, and liking a website makes the users a commodity of the company and can obtain marketing data about the given individual.
The whole process is a value producing activity that creates an audience through the network of friends that share in the interactive session. The social media, and particularly the dominant ones such as Facebook, are getting into the trend of enclosing information commons involved in online interactions and managed the protocols to benefit the branding of the sites. Through the company-based monitoring schemes, SNS are capitalizing on the users’ activity by selling their data and presenting it to the advertisers. The trend has been long and explains the previous findings where Facebook generates an average of over 85 percent of its revenue from advertising (Allmer et al., 2005). It is noted, therefore, that SNS are making use of their followers to obtain data that they sell to advertisers for commercial purposes.
The Misuse of Power by Bureaucracies
In the increasingly unsafe world where there are always emerging reports of violence and terrorist activities, it has turned out that government and other bureaucracies are taking the advantage to compromise the public’s data. Concerns have been raised over the ethical consideration in the use of wearable cameras and computers for monitoring people’s lives. While some have argued that it is a positive move as to ensures justice for all, opposing viewpoints have focused on the sacrifice of privacy in the name of justice (Bilton, 2013). While these are supposedly physical entities, greater concerns are raised when one considers that the government agencies can as well use software platforms in engaging in the security surveillance scheme. Usually, the primary source of such data is the social networking sites that end up revealing detailed information about people across the globe.
Government surveillance is defended by the assertion that if one has not done anything wrong, they do not have to fear anything. However, the statement is only used to justify the spying activities that it is engaging in to mask the intrusive nature of the surveillance acts. The importance of this factor is that while it is not warranted to conducts searches on citizens in the US without a valid search warrant, the same does not apply online. It is conceivable to think that the reason for making it a necessity to search citizens only by a warrant is to ensure that the public is protected from non-official searches that would place them at a security risk. However, following the passage of the FISA and the related laws, the protection has been less strict especially as pertains the use of electronic media (“The ethics (or not) of government surveillance,” 2005).
Government agents are increasingly being associated with online invasion of public privacy which makes the user of SNSs vulnerable. For example, in September 2007, Benjamin Robinson was indicted for misuse of government surveillance tool to spy on his girlfriend. As a special agent of the Department of Commerce, Robinson decided to make of the administration database Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) to monitor the travel patterns of the girl and her relatives. By the time he was busted he had used the software more than 163 times. It thus implied that as the technology is improved and SNSs are making use of user’s location services, it will be a huge challenge controlling the vulnerability of the public.
In summary, the use of interactive media and SNSs is supposed to benefit users but is turning out to be a platform for making users at risk from the unjustified surveillance schemes. The primary ways in which the users are exploited involve the lack of privacy online from third parties, the risk posed by SNSs as a work watching sites, and the threat of breach of security from the government officials. With the progressive nature of technological advancement, therefore, it remains a huge concern on how the networking sites will ensure that the public’s safety and rights of privacy are guaranteed online.
Allmer, T., Fuchs, C., Kreilinger, V., & Sevignani, S. (2005). Social networking sites in the surveillance society. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2), 131–153. http://doi.org/10.1177/1469540505053090
Andrejevic, M. (2002). The work of being watched: interactive media and the exploitation of self-disclosure. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(2), 230–248. http://doi.org/10.1080/07393180216561
Bilton, N. (2013). The pros and cons of a surveillance society. Bits. Retrieved from https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/the-pros-and-cons-of-a-surveillance-society/
Browich, J. E., Victor, D., & Isaac, M. (2016, October 11). Police use surveillance tool to scan social media. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/12/technology/aclu-facebook-twitter-instagram-geofeedia.html?_r=0
Land, C., & Böhm, S. (2012). They are exploiting us! Why we all work for Facebook for free. Social Network Unionism. Retrieved from https://snuproject.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/they-are-exploiting-us-why-we-all-work-for-facebook-for-free-via-p2p-foundation/
The ethics (or not) of government surveillance. (2005). The Ethics of Surveillance. Retrieved from https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/ethics-of-surveillance/ethics.html