How Facebook Plans to Monopolise Our Data

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How Facebook Plans to Monopolise Our Data

Facebook announced at the end of January a plan to integrate the Messenger service with those of WhatsApp and Instagram, merging the backend services for all three, providing users with the ability to send a message from one app to another.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has attempted to bring itself closer to its subsidiaries – back in 2016, it was revealed that WhatsApp was intending to start sharing user information with its parent company, but the move was paused by the UK Information Commissioner Office (ICO), who subsequently ruled the move illegal in 2018.

By merging the infrastructures of the apps together, Facebook may have found a way around this, potentially revealing the true intention behind the changes.

Once the process is complete, any data we willingly share with WhatsApp or Instagram will also be available to Facebook, and vice-versa. And considering how many people worldwide have at least one of the three apps installed, the amount of data potentially accessible is, in a word, gargantuan.

The official statement by Facebook is that the intention behind the move is to ‘make it easier to reach friends and family across networks’ – I accept this may be true, but it doesn’t alleviate some serious concerns I detail below:

Data Privacy

Given some of the press Facebook’s data policies have had in recent years, some concern seem more than justified. The move seems to directly go against the GDPR policy of data minimisation – put simply, companies cannot hold excessive personal data or hold data for longer than is strictly necessary for them to provide their services.

Currently, WhatsApp does not store messages and holds very little user data. Instagram does use data for ad revenue, but not within its messaging service. It seems hard to understand how these policies would be able to continue once WhatsApp and Instagram’s infrastructures are combined with that of the much more data-hungry Facebook and its Messenger Services.

User Autonomy

The move takes away some choice and control from those users who don’t want to use all of the platforms. I personally use WhatsApp and Messenger, but despite owning an Instagram account I made a decision several years ago not to use it.

The reasons people choose to use one, other or all of the platforms is as much a social choice as anything else. I don’t want anybody I’m connected with on Facebook or my defunct Instagram to be able to send a message to my WhatsApp – if I did, I’d have them on WhatsApp.

By merging, you take away the user’s ability to discriminate between the services. Whatever your reasons, those who truly do not wish for their data to be accessible by Facebook may have to leave all three platforms completely.

A Data Monopoly

The most worrisome thing about all of this, however, is that it moves Facebook one step closer to obtaining a full monopoly our ‘social data’ – the data we share on social media. Before Facebook acquired WhatsApp and Instagram, there was at least the appearance of competition in Facebook’s race for control of our social data.

 

Google, Apple and Microsoft all attempt to collect similar levels of data, but they also directly compete with each other and (as far as I am aware) do not share. Their data also largely comes from web browsers, operating systems and our ‘usage’ – as opposed to hosted personal data, opinions and conversations or messages, which Facebook harvests.

In any case, with three of the largest messaging platforms in the world sitting under Facebook’s one roof, it seems like Facebook is set to drastically pull ahead of the others. It doesn’t matter if you are on iOS, Android or Windows, you’ll likely still use a Facebook-owned app – and I’m not at all convinced this data monopoly is a good thing.

Facebook has already shown that they are not entirely trustworthy or transparent when it comes to how they handle personal data. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year to the Facebook Research App controversy last week, not to mention multiple other examples, Facebook has not done itself any favours recently when it comes to courting public trust.

Is it a stretch to suggest that Facebook’s control over our personal data is comparable to the monopoly that Standard Oil created in the late 1800’s? It’s not unreasonable to say that data is quickly becoming one of the most valuable commodities in the world, and for any of the traditional commodities, creation of monopolies can easily lead to abuse and manipulation of the market.

I am an advocate for Big Data and its potential benefits, but have we got to the point where governments need to look at applying anti-trust legislation to limit sharing, or even separate Facebooks different social entities?

Even if governments do decide to intervene, one look on YouTube and it’s easy to see the scale of the challenge in taking on the Tech Giants.

Ultimately, it’s easy for me to sit behind my keyboard and rant, but realistically will I stop using Facebook and their products? Probably not – it’s too convenient to use and I don’t want the hassle involved in removing myself – and that’s probably the biggest problem of all.

Saragossa are a talent provider specialising in the Financial Technology, Financial Operations and Data Science sectors. Our role is to match clients with high calibre candidates. Our work encompasses filling temporary contracts along with building permanent teams and resourcing projects. To find out more, please contact enquiries@saragossa.co.uk or call 020 7871 3666.

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