Academics Continue Their Attacks On Facebook’s New Privacy Rules

Academics Continue Their Attacks On Facebook’s New Privacy Rules

As I’ve chronicled over the past few years, it has been remarkable to watch how the ethics rules and privacy protections governing academic research, expanded and strengthened over the decades to protect the public from rogue academic researchers, have been torn down in the space of just a few years as the new “big data” era has proved too tempting for academics to allow something as trivial as ethics or privacy get in the way of all the incredible ways they can manipulate and exploit the public. It is all the more remarkable how quickly that same academic community that fiercely and steadfastly condemned the commercial world’s data ethics standards suddenly dropped all of their concerns and rushed to adopt those same standards when offered the opportunity to join the commercial world in its exploitation of private personal data without informed consent or the ability to opt out of research. After demanding for years that Facebook adopt more stringent data ethics and privacy protection standards, the academic community rose up in unison to condemn the company when it actually followed their advice earlier this year. In a joint letter this past April, a wide ranging community of academics fiercely attacked Facebook’s new efforts to protect user privacy, arguing that any attempts to protect user privacy would interfere with their ability to mass harvest personal information without consent and against the will of users. The community’s latest salvo is an open letter demanding that Facebook formally amend its terms of service to exempt academic researchers from the company’s efforts to protect its users, arguing that academic research takes priority over users’ desires to protect their personal information from being unwillingly harvested or having themselves manipulated against their wishes. The proposed “safe harbor” concept would for all intents and purposes exempt journalists and “research projects” from Facebook’s prohibitions on mass harvesting of user data and the creation of false accounts and posting of false content to the platform. Commercially funded academic research, in which a private company funds research at a university, including applied research with immediate commercial value, is also permitted under the proposed rules. More to the point, do terms of service even matter anymore and does the academic community even view them as legally or ethically binding? Put another way, the proposed changes to the terms of service would permit academics to legally mass harvest Facebook data so long as they promise not to resell it. However, if prominent academic leaders serving on Social Science One’s own committees argue that those terms of service don’t apply to academics in the first place, then what’s to stop academics from reselling all of the data they harvest if Facebook starts explicitly permitting legal mass harvesting?

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As I’ve chronicled over the past few years, it has been remarkable to watch how the ethics rules and privacy protections governing academic research, expanded and strengthened over the decades to protect the public from rogue academic researchers, have been torn down in the space of just a few years as the new “big data” era has proved too tempting for academics to allow something as trivial as ethics or privacy get in the way of all the incredible ways they can manipulate and exploit the public. It is all the more remarkable how quickly that same academic community that fiercely and steadfastly condemned the commercial world’s data ethics standards suddenly dropped all of their concerns and rushed to adopt those same standards when offered the opportunity to join the commercial world in its exploitation of private personal data without informed consent or the ability to opt out of research. An open letter from the academic and journalism community earlier this week continues the field’s assault on the few remaining obstacles to the unfettered ability to exploit and manipulate the public.

After demanding for years that Facebook adopt more stringent data ethics and privacy protection standards, the academic community rose up in unison to condemn the company when it actually followed their advice earlier this year. In a joint letter this past April, a wide ranging community of academics fiercely attacked Facebook’s new efforts to protect user privacy, arguing that any attempts to protect user privacy would interfere with their ability to mass harvest personal information without consent and against the will of users.

Naturally, the academic community fought back against Facebook’s new technological and legal efforts to restrict mass harvesting of data and covert manipulation of users and have worked hard to develop workarounds to enable them to continue their work regardless of Facebook’s rules.

The community’s latest salvo is an open letter demanding that Facebook formally amend its terms of service to exempt academic researchers from the company’s efforts to protect its users, arguing that academic research takes priority over users’ desires to protect their personal information from being unwillingly harvested or having themselves manipulated against their wishes.

The proposed “safe harbor” concept would for all intents and purposes exempt journalists and “research projects” from Facebook’s prohibitions on mass harvesting of user data and the creation of false accounts and posting of false content to the platform. The only restriction is that projects must involve “matters of public concern” but the definition of what constitutes…

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