NYU Opinions on Facebook User-Data Controversy

Louise Choi
Facebook is partnering with NYU Langone.

Despite the recent Facebook controversy on privacy and data harvesting, many NYU students continue to use Facebook. WSN spoke to students to see how the recent developments have affected their relationship with social media and their opinions on digital privacy.

In March, Christopher Wylie, former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, exposed Facebook’s data leak involving Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm tied to President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In an article from The New York Times, Wylie revealed that the firm had exploited personal data from 50 million Facebook users to build psychographic profiles and predict voting behavior.

Cambridge Analytica obtained some of the data by paying its users to complete personality trait quizzes. The firm could then access basic personal information, from the users and their friends. In total, only 270,000 of the 50 million agreed to selling their data.

In the wake of mass media criticism, the loss of $80 worth of revenue and two days of questioning by the United States Congress, Facebook has made some steps to be more transparent. Users can now check to see if their data was collected by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has also offered the option to download and view a copy of your own Facebook data.

Some, like CAS first-year Maddie Donatucci, don’t use Facebook often and say the scandal hasn’t changed the way they use Facebook.

“I very rarely use Facebook,” Donatucci said. “I never posted too much personal information on social media, but this definitely has me thinking twice before every post.”

In light of these concerns over data collecting, Stern Marketing Professor Scott Galloway argued in favor of breaking up large media monopolies such as Facebook into smaller companies in a recent clip on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria.”

“Instead of four firms, there could be ten, and we would have an ecosystem to stimulate job growth and shareholder value, and inspire more investment, broaden the tax base and lower rents via increased competition from firms,” Galloway said in an email to WSN. “Facebook is likely the easiest as you could make clean breaks — Instagram/Facebook/WhatsApp would make robust independent companies.”

Other infrequent Facebook users, such as Steinhardt first-year Meghan Swift, shared similar opinions.

“Usually I just use [Facebook] to keep up with some family members and school-related posts,” Swift said. “Since I have never been a heavy Facebook user, it has not impacted how I use Facebook. I do think it says a lot about how much information we share about ourselves online and how it is never really ‘private.’”

Active Facebook users seem more rattled by the recent controversy.

“I use Facebook daily, and the whole privacy issue is a little unsettling. It makes me not want to use Facebook as frequently,” CAS first-year Fara Omilabu said.

Laura Kang, also a first-year at CAS, agreed with Omilabu.

“I use Facebook a lot — I use it to stay in touch with people, kill boredom and stay updated on classes, groups and clubs,” Kang said. “It is kind of scary to think that so much of my info, people I talk to, how I interact with the Internet is available to corporations, and I’m not sure how they would take advantage of it.”

Another frequent Facebook user, CAS first-year Lauren Li, echoed similar unease about how corporations exploit private information.

“I use Facebook about once every two days,” Li said. “I think the privacy issue with Facebook is deeply rooted in politics. There is no guarantee that a replacement of Facebook would ensure our privacy for a long time. It made me question the concept of privacy in a cyber world.”

Although some NYU students seemed caught off guard that social media sites like Facebook were collecting their data, other students weren’t surprised.

While both frequent and infrequent Facebook users at NYU seem to share apprehension about posting personal information and companies collecting their personal data, not many have shifted their stances on using Facebook any differently than before.

Email Louise Choi at [email protected]

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