Facebook has been hammered since revelations the data from 87 million Facebook accounts was misused in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
A movement dubbed ‘‘Delete Facebook’’ implores users to consider permanently opting out of the social media service and Facebook’s share price has tumbled, wiping hundreds of billions of dollars off the value of the company.
Founder Mark Zuckerberg was yesterday hauled before US Congress to explain his company’s behaviour and Facebook has gone into severe damage control, promising more openness and better protections for its users going forward.
While Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, are a long way from Shepparton, the global reach of Facebook’s business has implications for the region.
Take-up of the platform has been enormous in rural Victoria, where it now provides communications infrastructure critical to many people’s daily lives.
The chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, an organisation which advocates for the rights of Australians online, believes Facebook’s recent troubles have brought the issue of privacy to light in ways many may not have considered.
‘‘The way Facebook is designed it is not clear to the end user how much you are giving away,’’ Lyndsey Jackson said.
‘‘Every time you like a page or put information in, that data is being harvested and is placed beyond your control.
‘‘It’s only now that people are realising the extent of how much data is being harvested,’’ she said.
Many companies are involved in a booming trade in the personal data of social media users and that trade could have implications for people’s insurance, taxation, even employment.
‘‘People have been fired over posts,’’ she said.
La Trobe University lecturer Andre Oboler, who identified the potential for the misuse of social media data for influencing elections as early as 2012, said people needed to be aware while on the surface Facebook appeared to be a free service, it was only because private data is a valuable commodity.
‘‘The people on Facebook are the product, they are not the customer. The customers are the companies who pay Facebook to get to those products,’’ he said.
While Australian privacy laws offered some protections to Australian Facebook users, Mr Oboler said the Federal Government was a long way behind Europe where users were afforded much better protections.
‘‘The German Government passed laws to hold them to account and Facebook tried to say ‘you can’t touch us’, but the Germans went after local Facebook staff and threatened criminal sanctions, which brought the company into line,’’ he said.
‘‘The Australian Government can do something and it needs to do something to protect Australia citizens ... We’re at the very early stages of dealing with these problems. Australia is behind in terms of cyber security generally.’’
Shepparton voters will go to the polls for a state election, and possibly again for a federal election, this year and social media will play a critical role in election campaigning.
How much trust voters using Facebook place in the information they will be served by the platform is an open and evolving question.
Are you concerned about your privacy when using Facebook?
Warrick Miles, Kotupna
Yes, I am. People don’t read the small print. If you read the small print, you’ll know that your privacy is owned by Facebook. I haven’t been on Facebook for a long time.
Ryan Trembath, Nagambie
A little bit, not too much. I think that when you have a data dump of 20million users, really, what does my data matter? Who’s going to sift through all that?
Emma Scott, Bendigo
Not overly, no. I think if you’re putting something on Facebook then you have to be prepared it’s on the internet forever. Technically Facebook does own that. If you don’t want something shared to everyone, keep it to yourself.
Victa Stojanovski, Shepparton East
I don’t really get into Facebook much because I don’t believe in social media altogether. It’s crap. If you’re going to be social, get out and be social.
Georgie Styles, Shepparton
I use Facebook. I have mine on private. If I don’t know someone, I don’t accept their friend request.
Kasie Reece, Shepparton
People can hack into your Facebook account and post random things. I’ve had mine hacked, so has my brother. You can tell friends your password and when you go to change it, they’ve changed it already.
Aleta Estrada, Shepparton
Yes, I’m worried. People can make up fake accounts and misuse them to find out things about you.