Updated: December 21, 2017 12:13:38 am
Facebook has more active monthly users than China has people. It also has one of the most advanced facial recognition technologies, first deployed in 2010, and honed consistently since then. Now, the social media behemoth is offering its users security, through surveillance. It will notify people if their photographs are uploaded by a third party — even if they haven’t been “tagged” — and gives them the option to remove or report the picture. The new feature will undoubtedly help in preventing fake profiles and allow users greater control over how their image is used online. On the other hand, giving Facebook control over one’s image requires a high degree of faith in a system, whose primary commitment is, like all profit-making enterprises, towards fiduciary accountability rather than ethical concerns over the privacy and security of its users.
Since the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook has been under the scanner for its alleged negligence while the platform was being used to manipulate the polls. It has been questioned by the US Congress and on Tuesday, Germany’s competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, criticised Facebook for improperly amassing third-party data from other apps it owns — WhatsApp and Instagram, for example. Facebook’s push to provide greater “security” to its users is just one of a series of measures by the social media giant in recent times amid the crisis of credibility it now faces. For its users — over 2 billion of them — though, the question is a deeper one.
Facebook is in the business of acquiring and selling data. Allowing it access to map one’s image may provide a certain peace of mind. But there is a trade-off here, one which has often been made before — between privacy and security. In the past, however, as with the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11 in the US, it was with the state and government that the social contract was struck. In the case of democratic polities at least, governments remain accountable to the people. The same cannot be said of Facebook.
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