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Zenzele Barnes
1 December 2014
CORE 412
Dr. Cooper Guasco
Facebook Privacy and Ethical Dilemmas
There is an abundance of information individuals share on the Internet everyday.
Constant updates can range anywhere from a picture of a meal to posting a phone number
or address identifiers. Of course, these actions come with the culture of social media. The
purpose of social media is connecting and exchanging information with the community
created on the Internet. Facebook and other social media websites are at their peak
popularity, these organizations have more to gain from any and all information posted.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013 “some 73% of online adults now use a
social networking site of some kind” (Duggan & Smith, 2013). By far, Facebook is at the
forefront of social networking websites with 63% of Facebook users visit the site at least
once a day (Duggan & Smith, 2013). These numbers show how much and how often
people are engaging with their online communities.
Every time a user creates a new Facebook account, it adds to the growing archive
of user information. As a result, depending on the context, new ethical considerations
arise. Issues of digital ownership, Internet privacy, user rights and social media company
boundaries are all ethically linked to Facebook. These online issues have become more
complex because of allegations of Facebook selling users’ personal information to third
parties. If users volunteer their information, does their tacit consent play a role in the
ethical responsibilities Facebook should take? Furthermore, there is the issue of self-

ownership and the personal rights of Internet users. Facebook as a company has influence
within the growing $140 billion dollar digital advertising (Metz, 2014). As a company,
they have a lot to gain through advertising effectively to their users. Moreover, as a
company they have been pulled into controversy over unannounced changes in the
website’s terms and conditions. In 2009, Facebook made changes to the terms and
conditions that stated Facebook retained users content after their accounts were deleted.
The changes went mostly unnoticed until a blog called the Consumerist reported the
changes openly to the public (Stelter, 2009). Additionally, Facebook accidentally exposed
6 million users’ phone numbers and email addressed to unauthorized viewers in 2013
(Shih, 2013). Still, the question remains; is it fair or just for social media companies like
Facebook to sell personal information?
Facebook, a social media platform, is part of the larger social networking
community. Along with LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, Facebook is a part of
a digital world users can create profiles, filter their information, and interact with others
within an online community. Users, within this context, are considered anyone who uses
Facebook and other types of social media. Pew Research Center researchers found that in
2013, 42% of adults use multiple social media platforms with Facebook among the most
popular (Duggan & Smith, 2013). Even within these social media platforms, Facebook’s
influence goes beyond just what data shows. Facebook also owns popular applications
such as WhatsApp (Covert, 2014) and Instagram (Rusli, 2012).
Within the basic anatomy of a Facebook account is a user’s profile and newsfeed.
A profile page normally consists of a profile picture, a list of friends, the user’s interests
and general information related to age, sex, race, and employment. These elements can be

private or public; each user can choose which information is shared and with whom. In
order to create an account, the user must sign up with their name, email address, and
create a password. Before completing the sign up process, the user must agree to
Facebook’s terms, data use policy, and cookie use. Cookies, in computer terms, are the
data that tracks a person’s browsing history. Within the data use policy, Facebook
methodically explains the information they receive, how it’s used, advertising, and other
websites and applications. Within the “Information We Receive and How It Is Used”
heading, there are subheadings outlining the information users use to sign up, what types
of additional information they can post through status updates, and more (Facebook Data
Use Policy, 2013). All of this information is open for users to explore is they click the
hyperlinks during the sign up process. After creating a Facebook account, users are free
to do as they please. In addition to friends, other elements of Facebook include pages and
groups. By “liking” a page or group, users interact with constantly updating information
Aside from the user experience, Facebook works to turn data into revenue. As of
September 2014, 864 million users were active daily (Facebook Company Info, 2014).
Additionally, Facebook “processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of
data each day. It’s pulling in 2.7 billion “Like” actions and 300 million photos per day,
and it scans roughly 105 terabytes of data each half hour” (Constine, 2012). Baskin
(2014) believes “companies like Facebook and Google need to acquire evermore data in
order to make their users into better users”. This information feeds into advertising on
Facebook. Simply put, data is money. Facebook delivers ads to users based on their
demographics and interests. They specifically note that, as a company, they do not share

information that personally identifies users, i.e.- name or contact information (Facebook
Data Use Policy, 2013). When given permission, Facebook uses demographics such as
page likes, age, topics, and keywords as tools to target advertisements to users interests.
These advertisements cross platforms; they can appear on Facebook on computers,
mobile devices, and tablets. In fact, the Facebook Audience Network was created for
mobile advertising on third party mobile apps. Further, because Facebook has access to
personal data, it can charge more for these ads (Metz, 2014). The potential for increased
advertising revenue is ample. The question then becomes, who owns this information,
what rights do they have, and are there ethical limits to it being sold to others.
There are a number of ways to act on this ethical dilemma. One option is to hold
social media companies accountable for their actions. With constant changes in privacy
settings, companies ethically should be held to a certain level of transparency. Selling this
information to third parties violates this level of trust. This option really takes into
account what it means to treat people and their information with dignity, as Kant would.
It can be accomplished through the users. Through gathering as a community and using a
collective voice, users can make their concerns heard. Facebook cannot exist without a
community to serve. Another option is have raise awareness and provide more resources
to users on protecting their online information. Checking “I agree to these terms and
conditions” only goes so far is people do not absorb the information. This tainted consent
does not make Facebook assume responsibility over what happens to users after they
agree. Rawlsian ethics would have no problem with this tainted consent but this contract
is important to Kant. From this point of view, the user is empowered. Users ought to have
the ability to make informed decisions. In the sense of individual rights, it is closely

related to Libertarianism. Users have the right to know what they sign up for. It is users’
responsibility to read the fine print. Lastly, an option is for social media companies to not
sell users’ personal information. Facebook is competing with Google within the $140
billion dollar digital advertising market (Metz, 2014). This plan of action would not be
easy to achieve. There is too much money to gain; Facebook is a business before
anything else. This action would require a whole community to work together to create
prohibitive laws. Social awareness movements are all over online communities like
Twitter. By mobilizing a community that already is connected online, people can
influence each other and move towards raising awareness of their concerns. Within this
context, it is important to look at contracts, privacy boundaries, and community impact
under ethical considerations.
When evaluating the ethics of selling third party information, an important section
of the argument lies within Facebook’s terms and conditions. Signing a contract is
ethically significant. As stated before, Facebook clearly gives access to information
concerning their rights and how their information is used. Contracts allow users to make
a choice. Users can choose to read the fine print or skim over it. It is important to note
that not all contracts are fair (Sandel, 2009). Rawlsian ethics accept that not all contracts
are fair and that consent is not a binding moral claim (Sandel, 2009). By these standards,
Facebook, not matter what they do with user data, has no responsibility with what
happens with user data. When users agree to the terms and conditions are where,
Facebook as a company has no further ethical obligations.
Problems occur when Facebook users are not fully informed. Tainted consent
presents another complicated ethical dilemma with selling information. Though Facebook

presents information related to user data, it is buried within hyperlinks to other pages. In
order to find pertinent information, users have to actively look for it. Kantism is strongly
rooted in honoring people as rational beings. The categorical impeditive is unconditional
regardless of the circumstances (Sandel, 2009). In the past Facebook has come into
criticism about making changes to these policies without adequately updating users. In
2009 it was discovered that “Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an
account was terminated” (Stelter, 2009). This, in addition to uninformed consent, would
not be treating people with dignity according to Kant. This holds true even if the terms
and conditions become more transparent; Facebook is not doing the right thing for the
right reason consistently. They have also come into criticism about making changes to
these policies without adequately updating users. In 2009 it was discovered that
“Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated”
(Stelter, 2009). If Facebook users do not realize their digital information has the ability to
be sold, they cannot fully consent to sharing it. Though Facebook does not explicitly use
the language of selling user information, they infer based on user information. The
information they use includes “information you provide at registration or add to your
account or timeline, things you share and do on Facebook, such as what you like, and
your interactions with advertisements, partners, or apps, keywords from your stories, and
things we infer from your use of Facebook” (Facebook Data Use Policy, 2013). Through
this information, Facebook makes $3.7 billion annually in ad business (Fowler, 2012).
In addition to contracts, another ethical consideration is self-ownership and
informational boundaries. Individual rights and freedoms are the most important from a
Libertarian point of view. This works with the understanding that individuals allow others

these same freedoms. This includes the right for a person to do whatever they want with
the things they own (Sandel, 2009). Ownership, from the Libertarian point of view, not
only includes the tangible but one’s self. Self-ownership in this context means that
Facebook users can choose to do anything they want on their accounts and their
information. This includes users exploiting themselves or sharing any and all of their
information. However, digital self-ownership is a sensitive topic for the general public.
Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, has responded to the public many times about
digital self-ownership. Facebook officials have assured users that they own and control
their information (Stelter, 2009). In this particular instance, changing terms and
conditions made users feel like their information was vulnerable.
Individual liberties are complex, especially online. Utilitarian’s are not as
concerned with individual rights as they are with what is best for the many. Utilitarians
look at maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain on a communal scale. In this case, the
community being any user with a Facebook or social media account. By 2009, the
number of active users was 175 million worldwide (Stelter, 2009). Individual rights only
matter in the greater sum of everything else. One objection to the Utilitarian standpoint is
that all moral goods cannot be a single currency. Happiness, arguably, cannot simply be
calculated. Each action has different moral weight but Utilitarianism counts every
preference equally within the dichotomy of pleasure or pain. With respect to Facebook, it
is possible to look at pleasure from two different standpoints, the user and the third
parties. For the user, the selling of their personal information can work as both a good
and bad thing. On a very obvious level, selling a user’s public information is bad because
it violates their privacy. In fact, 36% of polled Facebook users reported that they strongly

disliked others posting about them without asking permission. Additionally, 24% strongly
disliked the pressure to share too much personal information (Smith, 2014). Online
privacy and boundaries are a complex matter. Privacy, as it exists online and off, mean
people actively choosing what to disclose with others.
Facebook privacy concerns are complicated because the information disclosed is
hard to control or remove once it is posted. These boundaries can be especially tricky in
situations of minors. Officially, to make a Facebook account, one must be at least 13
years old. Professor Susan Barnes finds that there is a disconnect between youths’
thoughts on privacy on the Internet and their actions on social media websites. Barnes
calls this the privacy paradox. In other words, “adults are concerned about invasion of
privacy, while teens freely give up personal information. This occurs because often teens
are not aware of the public nature of the Internet” (Barnes, 2006). This lack of
understanding puts young users information at risk. The Pew Research Center surveyed
802 youth between ages 12-17 and found that 60% of the teens kept their Facebook
profiles private. This 2013 survey contradicts the privacy paradox and shows that some
teens do have an awareness of privacy on the Internet (Pew Research, 2013). This, of
course, does not necessarily mean all teens make smart and informed choices on
Facebook. Additionally, “parents are especially protective of images of their children, as
57% of Facebook users with children under the age of 18 say that people posting pictures
of their children without asking permission first is something they strongly dislike about
using Facebook” (Smith, 2013). In these cases, the people posting pictures could be both
peers in the same age range or older individuals. The issue of privacy affects users of all
ages. This issue also connects to user expectations and behavior. Any user without an

understanding of Internet privacy will not properly be prepared to address the risks.
Whether underage or uninformed, individuals that do not fully understand their own
privacy boundaries on Facebook could put personal information in jeopardy.
In addition to privacy and consent, finding the purpose of Facebook is part of
determining if selling third-party information is just. Aristotle connected to looking at
issues through a community lens. Aristotle defines justice as something that is both
teleological and honorific. Teleogical means that defining rights requires us to figure out
the telos (end or purpose) of the social practice in question. Finding out the purpose of
Facebook is something that involves the whole community. Facebook states their mission
is to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going
on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them” (Facebook Newsroom,
2014). Facebook is a constantly evolving online community which, of course, does not
exist in a bubble. It is also the users who create its meaning. The purpose of the Internet
and social media websites varies from person to person. Researchers found “information
flows on social networking sites are mediated not just by the global nature of Internet
communication, but by the ways that those sites and their users interpret the meaning of
online friendship and the social norms that go with it” (Hull, Lipford, & Latulipe, 2011).
Facebook use can be about connecting with old friends or sharing your experiences.
There is no singular way to define its purpose.
Aristotle believed that language was the key to enabling people to develop their
human capabilities and actions. In this sense, Facebook is a huge outlet for public
discussion. People from around the world can record an experience, interact with media,

and start a discussion. Within this online community, examining whose responsibility in
society it is to address digital information violations is an interesting challenge.
Aristotelians believe that moral virtue comes about as a result of habit. Law cultivates the
habits of good character (Sandel, 2009). These principles while honorific, can be hard to
access a company or entire Internet community. Even still, it is important to keep them in
mind as guidelines for just behavior. One example of these testing these guidelines is
applying the Good Life to Facebook.
The Good Life can be used to access the moral boundaries present on the Internet
and how they related to the sharing of digital information. Edward Spence found that
wisdom links information to a good life. Spence believes “wisdom has a direct and
primary relevant role to play in the normative evaluation of digital information and its
relationship to a good life in the infosphere…In particular, wisdom as phronesis or
practical wisdom, a reflective virtue that enables one to exercise understanding and good
judgment in one’s digital informational choices and actions, with full appreciation of the
value of both the means and ends of those choices and actions and their anticipated
consequences for one’s life, is essential for living a good life in the infosphere.” (Spence,
2011). By this assessment, achieving the good life is about using good judgment on the
Internet. This definition of finding the good life online does not necessarily reflect
Facebook’s role as a company. However, Spence states that “unreflective misuse and
abuse of information” is unethical (Spence, 2011). Facebook has access to a large amount
of personal user information. The community could consider selling information to third
parties an abuse of information.

In the case of Facebook selling information to third parties, what is the just thing
to do? Utilitarians believe that what is just is based upon creating happiness for the most
number of people. Users outnumber the people working for third party information
companies. Facebook is capable of enacting social change online, as exhibited by organ
donations. Do these social justice actions weigh more in the overall happiness of the
majority? In this particular case, it can be argued that the majority would remain happiest
by having their personal information kept personal. Personal means having user
information being available on Facebook but not shared with third parties. Libertarians
would view this issue as unethical because of self-ownership. Under the principles of
self-ownership, the information I put on the Internet or anywhere else is mine. The
subject or motives behind the information are not the issue; individuals are free to make
their own choices. The ethical issue comes into play because of others violating the rights
of users by taking and exploiting what is gained through tainted consent. Consent is
important if it is established under fair conditions. Under the system of self-ownership,
only I can exploit my own information. Aristotelian ethics could go either way depending
on how the information is being used. Facebook does a lot to further public discourse of
issues and politics. Reaching the good life online is dependent on individual choices.
Kant believes in respecting people as ends to themselves. Facebook’s motives for
gathering this advertising information are both to help people connect to their interests
but it also serves to make Facebook money.
Facebook selling personal information to third parties, with these ethical
considerations in mind, is unethical. When signing up for a Facebook account, people
have to be aware they are signing a contract. Tainted consent is a problem on Facebook

but it also is a problem of the Internet as a whole. Websites outside of just social media
have created a culture that sustains this ignorance. Even when installing a computer
program, there is a long list of terms and conditions that most people skip. The Internet
has heightened society’s need for instant gratification. Reading through verbose legal
jargon is not something the public wants to do. It is the responsibility of the community
to change this. Companies like Facebook act in favor of their stakeholders, which include
users. Baskin (2014) argues that this relationship is a two-way conversation. Users have
the power to boycott and make demands of Facebook to be more transparent. On the
other side, users must understand that the Internet is an inherently public place. It is
important that users make smart choices when deciding what to post to Facebook and
other social media websites.
The best approach is the community raising awareness and providing resources
about Internet safety to users. This plan would require action not only from Facebook but
it’s users. On Facebook’s end, letting the public know about changes in policies is an
important part of this solution. Making changes in terms and conditions is fine but the
users should be aware. This builds trust and helps people make informed decisions.
Users, in turn, have to manage their Internet and social media presence. Also, in order to
make changes they have to mobilize and voice their concerns as one. Under
Libertarianism, users own their own information. It is their responsibility and right to use
Facebook however they please. Maintaining a certain level of privacy and digital
ownership on Facebook requires each user thinking about the content they want to post.
The boundaries of information sharing on Facebook and other social media companies

are being tested everyday. Users have to take control of their own right to freedom and
think before they hit sign up.

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