Data negligence isn’t a Facebook problem; it’s an internet problem. While Facebook shouldn’t escape scrutiny for allowing Cambridge Analytica researchers to scalp the data of more than 50 million people, its terms of service are remarkably similar to the ones used by countless other popular apps, sites, and services used by millions more people. From Twitter, to Amazon, to Apple and beyond, apps give themselves permission to collect data and pass it on to data brokers, marketers, affiliates, and whoever else they see fit.
Most justify this process by claiming that data may be given to “third parties,” and data permissions may be alloted to those who qualify as “third-party service providers.” Ostensibly, a third-party service provider is someone or something outside of the company that provides a service of some sort to that company. This could be anything from product delivery, to marketing, to customer analytics and beyond. It has no actual definition, and thus no real meaning. But selling data that can be used to build a profile of any given user to figure out how to market to them is a significant business for most platforms, especially any that are “free” to use.
Apple admits it “may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple to provide products and services, or that help Apple market to customers.” It claims that “personal information will only be shared by Apple to provide or improve our products, services and advertising,” but the reality is that essentially anything could fall under those broad and noticeably vague categories. Apple also apparently “shares personal information with companies who provide services such as information processing, extending credit, fulfilling customer orders, delivering products to you, managing and enhancing customer data, providing customer service, assessing your interest in our products and services, and conducting customer research or satisfaction surveys.” Like Twitter, Apple claims that “these companies are obligated to protect your information” without providing any proof that they actually are, or what happens when they don’t.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Basically every app, site, and service you have ever used (or will ever use) collects your personal data in one way or another. The vast majority will either sell or share your data with third-party services. From there, who knows where it’ll end up. It could easily bounce from third-party to third-party until it makes its way into the hands of someone like, say, a researcher backed by Steve Bannon and millions of dollars of Mercer money.
Nowadays signing up for a digital service means signing away your privacy rights. Yes, I accept the Terms and Conditions. Sure, why not give this app permission. Reading all of the privacy policies you encounter in a mere year would take 76 work days. And honestly, even if you did read each and every mind numbing word, what would it change? It’s not as if negotiation is a possibility.
Twitter knows you’re not going to stop tweeting just because of a vaguely-worded line about data collection. Amazon, Google, and Facebook know the same. So long as legal protections for consumers remain practically nonexistent — which is likely, given that lawmakers can’t seem keep up with even the most basic advances in tech — and data collection remains profitable, companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
This post has been updated with a statement from Amazon.