Mark Zuckerberg - Privacy

Innovation can create new problems, and often even new industries. Two and half millennia after the invention of the wheel, we have traffic jams–made possible by the auto industry and Big Oil. That’s two industries right there. Fast food and high fructose corn syrup caused worldwide obesity, and gave rise to factory farming as well as the diet industry. (That’s two more!)

More recently, privacy has been a recurring issue when it comes to innovation, but it was a problem pre-Internet, as well.

Credit cards opened the door to overspending and account takeover as well as a host of privacy concerns around who gets to know your spending and bill-paying habits. Then there’s EZPass and FasTrak. Who doesn’t love automated toll roads? (Hint: People who don’t like being tracked.) The list is potentially endless, but no innovation has given rise to as many industries in the last fifty years than the Internet.

(Yep, the Internet is eligible to join the AARP this year!)

User privacy is an essential part of keeping your data and identity safe online; it’s something we talk about regularly on our podcast “What the Hack with Adam Levin.”

It’s no easy task to identify the 10 biggest Internet-related privacy failures masquerading as the next best thing since the World Wide Web, but here it goes.

#1 Facebook

We all know Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook–now owned by Meta (how meta!)–in his college dorm room. And we all know the Zuck didn’t go to just any college. He went to Harvard. And of course his idea wasn’t just any idea, either. It became one of the most valuable companies ever. 

While billions of us maintain accounts on Facebook, most people are aware that the company is no stranger to controversy. The meta-problem with Facebook stems from the product itself, originally built to help college students to get to know each other. A platform for self-expression and self-promotion of its users would be in a good position to sell all kinds of stuff to those users. It was just like TV, but a much more know-able, addicted and targetable environment.  

“Getting to know” you is a process fraught with privacy issues. But Facebook took the position that “privacy” was synonymous with “marketing data.”  That was the company’s value proposition. 

The company’s insatiable appetite for data only grew. It got data about us from third parties like Spotify. Then it expanded by making itself the easiest way to access apps. The only catch: Facebook got all the information associated with the use of that app, and of course they sold access to it–bundled with all the other things they knew about you–to anyone looking to serve you a laser-guided ad.

The company is reputed to know when you’re going to experience a major life event long before you know it. Not exactly what those first college-age beta testers signed up for.  

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