When I opt in, I specifically tell a company that I want to use their services. This should be the default. Instead, the corporate juggernauts are happily using personal information without consent—they get the profits, you’re left with the downside.
Take Equifax. I had no need for them to gather my personal data, nor did I even know they were doing so. A company that I never asked, much less gave my consent to, collected my data and then exposed it. I have to bear the risk of identity theft for the rest of my life; Equifax posted record profits after their data breach.
Facebook and Google are also gathering massive amounts of data about you, even if you don’t use their services. Both companies have cookies and analytics spanning much of the internet. Without your knowledge or consent, Facebook has created a profile for you.
My beef with Facebook goes deeper. A former co-worker sent me this profile:
That’s clearly my picture, but I’m not Sergei Sribnyy. In fact, I have no idea who he is.
The reason my former coworker stumbled across this was that Sergei Sribnyy was posting inflammatory comments in a Kyiv Facebook group. Thus my picture is associated with some internet loudmouth who’s insulting people I could run into any day.
This should be easy to solve, right? I dutifully reported the person’s profile. This is the response I got:
In this case, we reviewed the profile you reported and found that it doesn’t go against our Community Standards.
No amount of trying to contact Facebook has helped. I’ve tried to report the picture as copyrighted—after all it belongs to my company and was taken by a photographer we hired. Didn’t work. I also can’t claim this guy is impersonating me since he isn’t using my name.
So I’m stuck. I can’t opt out of something to which I never opted in.
Let’s not blame Sergei here. Sure, he’s probably not a great guy, but that’s beside the point. Facebook, a company worth billions of dollars, is using my photo without permission for their commercial platform.
I don’t begrudge the Zuckerbergs of the world their billions. My complaint is this yet another case of socializing risk and loss while privatizing profit. As someone who doesn’t use Facebook, I get nothing from the platform, yet I can’t opt out of them tracking me or using my picture. Facebook and their ilk are profitable simply because they skirt responsibility and don’t hire humans to resolve problems their platforms create.
If a traditional advertising agency did the same thing, it’d likely be grounds for a lawsuit. At the very least, I’d probably be able to contact somebody that works there and get the picture removed.
There’s also an odd puritanical streak in American business culture. Were I to post a non-sexual nude image of myself, it’d be taken down in a heartbeat. Dodging millions in taxes, hiring contractors as employees, and spreading hate speech barely merit a furrowed brow. A single strand of pubic hair gets instant action from Facebook and public outcry.
Every business should be opt in. Unless I explicitly give them my consent to gather and use my data, companies don’t have the right to profit off of me. Even though I deleted facebook years ago, I still can’t seem to opt out of Facebook.