1. Is Facebook really optional? According to a Washington Post article from Oct 1014, Facebook had reached 1.35 billion active users per month. That means that 20% percent of the worlds population logs on to Facebook once a month. That’s half of the worlds internet users. Given the growing ubiquity of the platform one can make the argument that lack of participation can have social consequences, including negatively impacting ones career. Following this argument, O’Brien’s statement that “everything we share on Facebook is done so voluntarily” could be seen as not entirely true. He does state that we share “because of the benefits we receive” but are the benefits we receive worth what we are becoming increasingly obligated to share in order to access them?


  1. O’Brien suggests that “oversharing might create a lot of social good” and gives Red Ink as a primary example of the potential power of personal data. For Red Ink, or a similar venture, to be viable lots of people would have to share large amounts of personal information. Assuming they would do so, do you think this data would have the power that O’Brien and Red Ink founder Ryan O’Toole expect it to? I would counter their claim with the argument that our society is already overwhelmed with data, and that factual information alone will not cause people to take action.


  1. O’Brien asks us to “remember just how rapidly and radically our notion of privacy has evolved over the past decade” and seems to suggest that we may very quickly reach a place where offering the type of financial data requested by Red Ink no longer seems to be a big deal. Is this growing acclimation to providing ever increasing amounts of personal information a good thing?


Link to Washington Post article referenced in question one.


Posted by Kat


2 Comments so far

  1. Zoe Simpson on April 13, 2015 12:19 pm

    For the second question, I had a similar reaction at first. However, I think something like Red Ink could be useful if we think of it less as “us” — the everyday person — using the data, and rather think of it as donating info to organizations we support. Businesses will buy personal information so that they have a better idea of which consumers to target and how. Your favorite non-profit functions the same way, but may not have as much access to helpful data. In that case, it’s not so much about inspiring people to take action as it is about helping the organization of your choice become more effective. Still, how big a difference it would make and whether it’d be worth it is up in the air.

    As for the first question, I agree. Social media in general has become practically compulsory. Forbes recently had an article about how Facebook is declining (http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2015/01/27/facebook-active-users-decline/), which people have been talking about for years, but social media use overall has been growing. Having an online identity on sites like LinkedIn is becoming necessary for career success, and sites like Yelp have become integral to many people’s daily navigating. Plus, I think it’s becoming more and more standard to use your real name. Even YouTube — which is more widely used than Facebook — now requires new users to register with their Google+ accounts, forcing users to post videos and comments with their real first and last name (unless you want to go through the added hassle of creating a new, fake Google+ account just for YouTube). I also think the spread of our online identity across sites makes it harder to keep track of how much is out there, and the fracturing makes us overlook how much we’re sharing in total.

  2. Sarah Cohn on April 14, 2015 8:16 am

    To the 2nd question, I’d agree the more data doesn’t necessarily make for better consumer choices. A study about calorie labeling and food choice found the labeling had no significant impact. It is a pretty interesting read, though you could skip to the Discussion heading for the highlights: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/28/6/w1110.full

    To the first question, my take on the article is that O’Brien is conflating two different issues–the content that FB users voluntarily post, and the data mining that FB does of user profiles. Privacy concerns about FB aren’t directed at user-generated content; people are free to share/not share whatever they like (whether they feel pressure to do so is another matter). But the terms of service (TOS) that all FB users agree to allows FB to do what they want with our data. Hence the ads, targeted posts etc. There is an argument that we agree to the TOS and so also to the use of our data, but who really reads the TOS? Or would understand it completely if you did? The privacy concerns are about the rights to our data that we cede to companies (not just FB) when we agree to TOS.

    I would also add this article is 5 years old, and A LOT has happened around personal data privacy issues, and government & business use of said data, and it has become clear that the government, certainly, isn’t particularly interested in protecting individual’s data privacy.




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