While a UK regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke data protection laws when it conducted a psychological study on users without their consent, another more serious ethical issues resides in the behavior of the two Universities who collaborated with Facebook.
Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco seemed to have by-passed their own ethics committees while participating in the study. Any undergraduate, Master’s or Ph.D candidate knows and understands the rigorous process undertaken to get permission to conduct research which involves human subjects and/or animals-especially in the social sciences and psychology and medicine/psychiatry disciplines.
Cornell University has a 17 page document outlining a set of ethical standards to be followed while conducting research, while The University of California at San Francisco has a human research protection program in place.
The disinhibtion effect is a lack of regard for social and ethical standards in personal behavior while online and it seems to have infected the ethical standards of the two learning institutions that collaborated with Facebook. In flaunting their own ethical guidelines while collaborating with the social media website, the universities have let down their respective student populations and may have undermined their own credibility as research based institutions. Unsurprisingly, the social media website seems to have missed the ethical issue all together by wondering what all the fuss is about given that people’s data wasn’t compromised! We all should be mad as hell!
The illusion of anonymity which surrounds online activity and social media has been shattered in a recent US court ruling. Facebook has had to comply with a court order and hand over data to assist investigators seeking evidence in a social welfare fraud case. Hundreds of people were claiming disability pensions when in fact their face book accounts revealed that they were perfectly healthy. Fraud has been around for eons, but Facebook hasn’t. The court subpoenaed data which included private messages, pictures and personal details.
The judge defined Facebook as a ‘digital landlord’; a rather clever definition really because the company controls vast amount of personal data from over a billion users world-wide, as well as drawing income from those who use its websites and server facilities. The court defined the social media website as “as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information… the search warrants authorizes the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.” (Miller, 2014)
While the seizure of the data will have ‘free-speech’ and privacy advocates up in arms, the fact is no-one’s personal data on Facebook, or any other social media website is completely private. Facebook trawls its own user database daily for profiteering purposes, which many users could define as the “unreasonable seizure” of their personal data, and so Facebook crying foul under the fourth amendment is somewhat hypocritical.
But, it’s the legal definition which is intriguing and perhaps will wake-up the digital vox populi to the reality of living a life in someone else’s data-base, and within the strict confinement of a digital landlord’s server. Those who choose to live their personal and social lives through any kind of digital medium have very few rights, but clearly a number of legal and ethical responsibilities along with any number of unseen, or unknown legal liabilities. It seems that 21st century living in a cloud holds anything other than a silver lining.
Miller, J. (2014, June 27). BBC News Technology. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055909
Nothing is more perversely voyeuristic than the vox populi paparazzi edging their way into the scene of a crime, a horrific accident or a social event and recording it, uploading it to the web and holding out longingly for their few minutes of fame.
I recently gave a presentation at an international conference on the use of technology in education and before I began I asked that mobiles be put on silent and that there be no photographs, videoing or recording of my presentation. In return I offered a copy of the presentation and also gave out the name of the journal in which the paper was soon to be published. A gentleman raised his hand and said “why are you anti-technology?” I said I wasn’t that it was simply my right to protect my privacy, I didn’t want my talk uploaded to YouTube, nor did I want my picture taken and uploaded on the web without my permission. I asserted my right to privacy and my right to own and protect the copyright of my material. There was a round of applause, but not everyone was happy. Another person suggested I was not sharing my information freely, and that I was part of the great conspiracy to with-hold knowledge and information and make money from people; however neither remark is true. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I simply hold the view that my privacy is a value I uphold and have a right to, and that my copy-righted work is available and can be accessed and used at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place.
Where has the idea come from that it’s a free for all with modern technology when it comes to intruding on our lives? Who are the people responsible for undermining this basic principle of civility, which endorses the inalienable right to a private life? After all if it’s good enough for royal families and celebrities to lay claim to, it is good enough for the majority too.
In the 21st century Google and Facebook in particular have produced technologies that have eroded our personal and private lives. Their invasive technologies marketed as de rigueur for 21st century youth and for 21st century living are a lie. Their products are troublesome if we are to learn anything from the recent NASA scandal. But the debate and argument about privacy is an old one.
During the trial of Sir Thomas More, in 1535, Cromwell asked him if he had anything else to say in his defence; More replied “‘What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.” (Bolt, 1990) How true this prophecy has become.
The digital age has seduced people into disclaiming their hearts and selling out to the latest gadgetry and ignoring their rights, but embracing ‘terms and conditions’ of which they have very limited knowledge. Google’s latest techno product-Google glasses- allow its users to see through them darkly-they choose a sinister, augmented, constructed reality over what is real. In addition they are allowing companies and corporation to deny the basic dignity of an employee-treating them instead like robots. Google, along with Amazon and Facebook are among the IT corporations that regards themselves as people, and vociferously protect their privacy, yet promote the use of these invasive technologies, and in doing so prevent a global population from living lives that a full, experiential and free from surveillance.
Bolt, R. (1990). A Man For All Seasons. London: Vintage Books.
On March 28th 2014 the United Nations requested that all nations using armed drones comply with and respect international law. The two countries most affected by this sinister type of weaponry, Pakistan and Yemen, in which hundreds of its citizens have been killed as innocent by-standers in the ‘global war on terror’ sponsored a resolution with the support of Switzerland, but didn’t single out the United States as the main culprit in this horrid and shameful daily ‘reality show’ played out in the covert war theaters of the post-modern world.
The Commander in Chief of the United States of America, a recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate argues that his country is committed to following domestic and international law with the greatest possible transparency, in its use of armed drones. The average person, and the international community knows that this just isn’t the case.
In a separate, but equally ‘brave new world’ development, Face book guru and profiteer Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to connect two-thirds of the world which has no internet access using drones, satellites and lasers. His announcement follows on from Amazon’s desire to have drones flying around our heads as they deliver tens of thousands of customer deliveries on a daily basis and Google’s plan to have party balloons beaming the internet into our homes!
I wonder if it has ever occurred to Mark Zukerberg, and his confrères at Amazon and Google, that not everyone wants to be connected to the internet or have Wi-Fi access. Our day-to-day lives can and do exist outside of his sphere of influence and the ubiquitous influence of technology on our experiences of thinking and being.
Military use of armed drones to fight wars by proxy, and commercial use of drones as agents of advanced capitalism, both exploit people. In the former case they destroy lives, kill innocents and annihilate whole communities. In the latter case they are part of the wider agenda of the techno-evangelist cult to create a digital utopia in which everyone will be forced to endure the sane madness of those not so magnificent men and their flying machines!