By Anupriya Singh
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
For easy tips and tools, have you been visiting gardening webpages that contain the iconic Facebook ‘like’ button in some corner? Then dear reader, you have been branded a gardening freak by Facebook (though you never pressed that like button or logged in via FB). This will be followed by gardening related advertisements exclusively on your screen and don’t brush it off as a case of sheer coincidence.
FB has officially declared it will be tracking its users’ preferences and consumption on, as well as off, the popular social site. As long as a page consists of the FB icon, your visit to the page will be recorded. This mapping will give birth to an enormous sea of user data that will be used to serve targeted advertisements, a move popularized by Google (Google made $32.2 billion off this in 2012). Following Google’s footsteps, Facebook too wants to make cash off this growing trend.
Keeping a tab on customers’ online habits for monetary benefits can be seen as FB’s invisible service charge. Firms like Datalogix and Acxiom consolidate the raw data for the advertisers’ usage. Facebook enabled this through an ‘automatic opt-in option’ (out of which one can manually opt-out). But a staggering proportion of 98% of the users are not aware of this manual op-out facility. Activists around the globe quote this as yet another invasion of privacy, as the social networking site should follow a manual opt-in methodology and first seek user’s consent before monitoring their online preferences. With around 100 million Indian FB users and many more who use Google on a daily basis, these companies posses more information about the masses than even our government, which is a matter of grave concern for the government authorities. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg on her recent India tour did it all, from exhibiting ‘digital diplomacy’ by meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the prospects of synchronizing social media with governance, to pondering over women suffering from ‘tyranny of low expectations’ and eventually getting mobbed by Indian businesswomen at FICCI-FLO. But throughout, the FB boss was evidently mum over this global issue.
Regulators worldwide are taking rapid action against this invasion of personal space. The ever strict European Commission for the Digital Agenda is working towards formulating new policies that will make it mandatory for companies to seek a manual explicit opt-in option before tracking a customer’s online activities. Other nations are taking measures akin to this, by disbarring this act of tracking by giants like Facebook and Google on any third party website for the purpose of maintaining a database and serving targeted advertisements. India with second largest number of FB users in the world should also take adequate steps and disallow this practice with immediate effect. Meanwhile as all of us wait for such a measure, here are three simple steps to opt-out of this vicious ‘web’ of artfully tracking our preferences and likings over any third party website:
- Go to the web address http://www.aboutads.info/choices/
This link will present a list of all companies tracking your online activities.
- From the list, select the ones you want to prohibit from tracking you.
- Submit your choices.
When a user signs up to be a part of an online social fraternity, he/she places immense unspoken trust in the company while sharing all black, white or grey private moments and emotions of life. Growth of recent startups like Snapchat has highlighted users’ inclination towards maintaining a certain level of anonymity, which should be respected. Breach of customer’s privacy and shattering the hard-earned trust can be branded as a “violation of business ethics”. In today’s global scenario, it is hard to imagine this globe sans the social networking site. It has efficiently shrunk the circumference of the globe virtually by several folds. However, all this being said, such a widely decried controversy is not new for Zuckerberg’s brain child and will hardly affect the enormous figure of passionate, dedicated users and its entwinement with our day-to-day activities.
Anupriya is a second year undergraduate student in Economics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi. An avid reader, she wants to travel across India to comprehend the varied façade of the Indian culture and traditions. Apart from academics, Anupriya has also dabbled in extracurricular activities like debate and documentary making. She has won numerous awards for her documentaries on social issues. Sports, primarily football, and painting constitute her main interests.