Discussion: Privacy – Government vs. Social Media

I was listening to a podcast interview with Nick Bostrom who was talking about his paper The Vulnerable World Hypothesis which looks at how we might avoid certain existential risks that might collapse civilization as we discover new technologies.  It’s an interesting read, but not directly related to what I want to discuss in this post.  He talks about one of the solutions to dealing with such risks is increases surveillance of people.  I am sure that we are all uncomfortable with that, but I think he makes a pretty good argument about why it might be necessary given the possibility of inventing some technology that is easy to use by individuals and could easily lead to widespread destruction.

It was this uncomfortability that I was thinking about and I started to think about the reaction to the scandal that was exposed a number of years ago when it was found out that the NSA was collecting all this information on U.S. Citizens.  I personally didn’t get concerned myself.  I thought about the volume of data they are collecting and it seemed pretty clear to me that the man hours it would take to actually listen or read everyone’s private communications, while solving unemployment, would be an enormous task.  It seems people actually feared that an NSA agent might show up at the door and tell their wife that the husband was having an affair or something.  I don’t know.  We definitely don’t like the idea of the government having our private information, and maybe that’s for good reason.

But enter social media.  We have these platforms that we enter all sorts of personal information into.  We talk about what we like and don’t like.  We post pictures of where we are and where we’ve been.  These companies collect all this information.  We know that they have algorithms that influence what we read, who comes up on our feeds, and try to feed into our political views as opposed to presenting us with opposing arguments.  We know that these platforms have been used by hackers and others entities to directly manipulate people.  100s of millions of people all over the world hand over all this information willingly.

My question is, is our government anti-trust disproportional to our trust of corporations?  Is it even fair to compare the two, or is their an asymmetry here that I am missing?  I mean arguably NSA surveillance could be uncovering terrorist plots that prevent loss of lives, does social media have benefits that outweigh its costs?  Are we being hypocritical about the importance of privacy?  Is it a difference of consent of information vs. non-consent of information?  I mean I might argue that I am consenting by getting a Facebook account and posting things about myself, but they are certainly using my information in many ways I don’t expect or aren’t aware of.

Your thoughts?

24 thoughts on “Discussion: Privacy – Government vs. Social Media

  1. So many positive things about social media – the power to connect and exchange stuff, and also to support good causes, petitions etc, but I’m beginning to think the abuse of much of what goes on these days far outweighs the benefits.Just one example (apart from government, corporate and lobbyist abuse of these platforms): yesterday’s UK news: Instagram eating disorder content out of control: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47637377

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree there are definitely positives, and we can’t necessarily see those positive with government surveillance…but then again given the rise of domestic terrorism, maybe that information really is helpful.

      But I also agree that the costs of social media companies having our private information plus the type of things that can be spread on social media are starting to add up.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. 🙂

        Here, I just ignore politics. I didn’t even know Temer (former president) was arrested until someone asked my opinion on it yesterday. Oddly enough though, the ‘government’ is inherently stable (by that I mean the public service), it’s just the politicians who’re complete whackjobs.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. LOL…yeah I agree that this tends to be the case the for many countries. Now of course it could be that the “intelligence” arm of the government is detached from the leadership. That seems to be the case here in the U.S., where the intelligence community says stuff and only a portion of the politicians seem to hear what they are saying. Of course a government can use the information from intelligence for good or ill, and obviously that worries people. It seems though that unless you have some sort of strong totalitarian dictator, incompetence is far more the norm for the government than calculated sinister moves by the government to directly used any personal information the intelligence community might collect on the average citizen. Being overt about having that information is likely to get you unelected, and there is far more money by staying elected, which is why we see populism rising I think, and the government not actually doing anything. There is no question that they are likely to use data to determine perhaps what are the best policies they say they support to get votes…this is the kind of information they can easily get from social media data. Intelligence community data seems somewhat irrelevant to staying elected.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Swarn Gill and john zande,

      I have largely left some social media, for both their users and the platforms themselves can be highly problematic and even abusive, unreasonable and/or high-handed.

      Some members in certain groups tend to form cliques, thus amplifying problems when things go awry or when conflicts or misunderstandings occur. They also seem to be living in their information bubbles, which reinforce their ignorance, worldviews, opinions and biases.

      Australia’s leading Investigative journalism program entitled “Four Corners” has covered at least twice the many dark sides of Facebook in recent years. Even before the coverages by “Four Corners”, I had warned some of my closest friends to no avail, as many are/were not sufficiently conversant in, and/or too apathetic about those issues to comprehend me.

      Another big issue that has really bothered me is the rather wanton and undiscriminating ways in which social media users use and share quotes. I have discussed and analysed the issue and other related ones exhaustively in my special post at http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/the-quotation-fallacy/

      Thank you for all of your comments and insights.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. In relation to the ubiquitous, time-sapping and addictive nature of certain social media, I have also included some pointed critique and discussion on Facebook in the section called “Stop Facebooking and Smell the Roses” within my post entitled “🦅 SoundEagle in Best Moment Award from Moment Matters 🔖🏆” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/soundeagle-in-best-moment-award-from-moment-matters/#Jesse_Hawley

      I wonder whether Facebook might in the future attempt to introduce some bloglike features to compete or even usurp existing blogging platforms.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Information-gathering by private companies is somewhat less worrying because, at least right now, it seems to be mostly dependent on voluntary surrender by the victim. When I read articles about how corporations can collect vast amounts of data on people, they all involve things like Google tracking your searches, Facebook collating information you put there, systems that can track where your smartphone is, etc. I don’t use Google (there are plenty of other search engines), I don’t have an account on Facebook or any such social-media platform, I don’t have a smartphone, etc. So I don’t see how they can do much to spy on me. And I don’t see that I’m missing out on any benefits by not participating in those things.

    If the government is collecting huge amounts of information because it’s frightened that some nut somewhere will invent a super-H-bomb and blow up the world or something, there are two problems. First, we can’t trust them not to abuse the information, regardless of the original reasons for collecting it. There are simply too many things that control freaks in power might want to control. Second, any terrorist group smart and organized enough to, say, engineer a weaponized super-virus would probably also be smart enough to evade surveillance.

    Fortunately the risk from such groups is probably negligible. The biggest terrorist success so far was accomplished with box cutters and lax airport security. Most of them seem pretty incompetent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good points here Infidel, thank you. I would agree that there is a difference in this being voluntary and involuntary, but given how hard it can be to leave these platforms I think we do have to take in the addictive nature, or at least the costs of leaving. When I got into Facebook I never imagined the data would be collected and used in the way that it was. None of that was known. What social media has turned out to be I think is perhaps different than how it was intended. I think it’s interesting though how people still voluntarily give information, while I am certain many of those people would at the same time be worried about the government having that information. I think the fact that a private corporation having the data can also be used by the government is also worth noting:

      While I agree it’s a cat and mouse game between criminals and the government, there are plots that are stopped and prevented. Not all. This is likely impossible because of the fact that technology is always changing. Criminals use something new, law enforcement has to try to stop it. Law enforcement comes up with something new, and criminals have to figure out how to beat it. Nevertheless it seems that it does help some schemes get foiled, and at least requires a level of organization in criminals that makes it more difficult if they want major plots go undetected.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Do NOT get me started on governmental overreach. I abhor it, always have. Isn’t that what communities are for, to help us take care of one another? We live in such an impersonal world anymore, linked in cyberspace with our tenuous devices. And while I enjoy social media to a degree because it keeps me in touch with people I would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with due to simple time constraints, I am happy to leave my phone behind, and often do. It’s getting crazy out there! 🙃😜🥺😞😘

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I definitely get how government overreach can be dangerous, it just seems like if they are collecting all this personal data they don’t seem to be using it for any nefarious purposes that I can see at this point in time. Whereas the data collected on social media and the way other companies can hijack and propagandize social media has most certainly happened. Certainly Twitter and Facebook has faced some angry pushback, but mostly by governments. People just don’t seem nearly as concerned as they did when it was revealed that the NSA was collecting data. I don’t necessarily advocate that any of it is good, it just seems disproportionate.

      And while I too feel a sense of loss of local communities, I do think that social media allows for community. Whether that community can be as useful or meaningful in our lives remains to be seen. But I remember a friend on facebook sounding really depressed in a status update. He lived in Pensacola. His girlfriend lived in Orlando, and I messaged her because I was worried about him and she called and tried to find out what’s going on. We can still take care of each other I think and we can do it over greater distances. Maybe future generations will simply reimagine what community means. Ultimately we face some big problems that require a larger sense of community that extends beyond our neighborhood. Not that we still don’t need that neighborhood.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, there are all sorts of communities, absolutely. I love that social media allows me to communicate with people all over the world who genuinely seem to care about one another. Anything that broadens one’s cultural outlook as well cannot be a bad thing.

        Frankly I am gobsmacked at what some people share on social media. Incredibly personal details, running commentary of their emotional lives, and a ridiculous amount of photographs of their children when the children don’t necessarily have a say in that sort of exposure. Who knows what will come back to haunt whom one day?

        As for me, I am quite circumspect in my sharing on Facebook. Instagram is where I post my photographs and WP my writing. Since the sharing options have broadened out so dramatically on FB, I pulled all of the images of my kids when the writing was on the wall, except a couple that they employ on their own. Clearly I am a privacy nut, but hey. So I definitely agree on oversharing on these kinds of platforms where data can be mined so easily. The future remains unwritten, so I guess we’ll just see what happens.

        Great post, thought-provoking. Enjoy the rest of your week, Swarn! Aloha. 🤗

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think awareness of what social media can do is important for using it more wisely. In a recent podcast I listened to, the person being interviewed said something rather poignant that will stick with me. He said “In social media you are the product, not the customer”. It’s both true and disturbing. I would rather pay 5 bucks a month to facebook to be the customer.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Haha, yes, I understand. I know many who have closed their FB accounts, but for me, it’s a path of further discernment with regards to future posts. The keeping in touch seems important still, somehow. Aloha, Swarn.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. melissabluefineart

    I recently saw a story that said that Trump is using Facebook to spy on people who receive SSI and medicaid. I was appalled by this, yet another example of him abusing his power. I’ve lived in countries where the militia rides around in open vehicles, filled with soldiers carrying machine guns aimed at citizens. It is chilling and if we aren’t careful that can happen here. As for me, I closed down my FB and IG accounts some time ago. I have found very rich ways to connect to people in my community and that keeps me plenty busy! I do like it here on WP, but I notice that they too gather our information and track our activity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hadn’t heard that about Trump, but regardless of whether that is true or not there is of course evidence of companies using this data and providing the results of the analysis to the governments for use. So these issues are increasingly less separate. My main point in talking about this issue is how easily everybody gives up personal information to social media platforms and yet still react paranoid when it comes to governments. This just seemed paradoxical to me. This data can all be put to good use to, but it’s worrying how open we are to psychological exploitation to social media platforms.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. melissabluefineart

        You’re right. I’m amazed at the people who eagerly share the dates of their vacations, among other things, and then come home and are surprised to find they’ve been robbed. Perhaps it is rooted in what we are told~we’ve all heard the scary stories of Big Brother watching you, and conversely, we are always being assured that what you encounter online is a “community”.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s not “social media’s” fault when people think they need to share every aspect of their lives with the rest of the world. I think they forget that not everyone who has access to their posts is a “friend.”

          P.S. I have a granddaughter who is super guilty of the above. *sigh*


  5. On government surveillance, with AI to detect patterns in communication the humans need only read the communications the AI flags. I remain worried, as I support protest: against Mr Trump’s visits here in the UK, against fracking, and against the arms trade, with British technology now causing death and destruction in Yemen and other places round the world. On facebook, millions are now being spent supporting Hard Brexit with those hate-mongering memes directed at particular voters (Not me, I “Like” the wrong things to get them) with the aim of destroying our relationship with the EU, and regulatory protection of workers, consumers and the environment in the EU and UK.

    Anyway. Hello. I am going to leave evolutioncreation’s blog, as he has the energy to answer comments and the blindness or rotten falseness to assert creationism. I am interested in his view on climate change, if he will answer, but not willing to continue defending the truth against someone willing to lie so blandly. Have as much fun as you can. I wanted to expatiate somewhere! Once he mentioned the Flood laying down sediments, I knew he was a lost cause.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Clare, thank you for your comments. I agree that there should be worry about any kind of surveillance whether from the government or from private companies. And of course those two entities need not be separated as the Cambridge Analytica incident indicates.

      Yes, I agree that evolutioncreation is unlikely to present much in the way of cogent arguments for his stance. It’s clear that his trust of science is biased by his religious views. It kind of worries me that he’s a physician because we also don’t need physicians who are just going to always trust their “conventional wisdom” over innovations in the medical field. Let’s hope he’s just a general practitioner and doesn’t go much beyond treating colds and flus. As he is no expert in evolutionary biology or atmospheric science I have no interest in his views on global warming. Although it might be interesting to see what he thinks of science as it pertains to vaccines!


      1. Ah. Yes. Vaccines would be a good one. I wanted to ask about global warming to find his view on a scientific question where the deniers are right-wing politicians, rather than Evangelicals, to find how poisoned he was. I trust the institution of science, generally. He is poisoned against it by Creationism; how far does his disbelief go.

        Sorry to go off topic, but I did not want to comment there further. I have just posted on why I don’t want to argue with him. Good luck! I don’t think you will persuade him, but you might make someone reading his blog think.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha…no worries. No he actually hasn’t responded further to anything I’ve posted so I feel no need to discuss further.

          Given how much evangelical Christians here are being courted by right wing politicians, there is a strong streak of climate change denialism by the Christian right wing here. They believe only God controls the climate…humans can’t be causing climate change.

          Liked by 1 person

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