Social media alliances leave consumers trapped

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By now you've heard about the newest round of changes to Facebook. You've seen the feed on the top right that tells you exactly what your friends are doing. You've probably been pressured to include more career and education data about yourself. More likely than not you wrote a status about how creeped out you are, or liked someone else's. (Remember when there wasn't a ‘like' button? Weird.)

New sources have noted the new features as well. Mashable.com, a website providing social media and web tips, teased the new programs and published various opinion articles praising and criticizing the new layout. 

USA Today Tech published a story last Saturday about the potential security risks involved. Ten consumer and privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Consumer Watchdog, have joined two U.S. congressmen in suggesting an investigation of Facebook via the Federal Trade Commission ("Facebook changes touch  privacy nerve, USA Today. October 1, 2011). These are pretty big allegations for a page that started in a disorganized dorm room (#socialnetworkreference).

Many of the security suggestions in light of new features are old news to potentially at-risk college students. For example, don't post embarrassing party photos. When every single one of your sorority sisters comments on them (OMG blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol lol <3), everyone else will see them in real time. Whether we heed the advice or not, this is stuff we've head before.

It seems then that the concerns of such groups seem a little misguided. According to Facebook's own statistics, there are more than 800 million users, half of whom log in at least once a day. In 2009 — yes, two years ago and over 600 million followers fewer — CNN Money published an article called "How Facebook is taking over our lives," that described Facebook's influence in socializing, politics, job recruiting and business practices. Its influence has rapidly expanded since then, even as other social networks like Twitter and Tumblr have become more competitive. 

Whether on a micro or macro level, Facebook seems to have embedded itself pretty securely into society. DePauw seniors aren't just worried about future employers snooping around their profile pages, but many employers hiring in broad fields of technology, finance, publishing, journalism and marketing will expect social media-read: Facebook-fluency. 

The USA Today article mentioned quotes Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, who admits that Facebook uses "tracking cookie technology to monitor and correlate users' Web activities." Is it a little creepy that businesses will be using data from our profiles? Yes. Will the companies we work for utilize such statistics? If not now, it seems they'll begin in the near future. Our generation seems to be in a sort of Facebook dilemma. At a basic level, we're faced with a typical consumer choice: If the product I use changes in ways I don't like, do I keep my allegiance to the product? I'm betting that most people are staying.

But what are the options if you leave? Losing contact with friends and alienating yourself from a marketing that looks for social media fluency seem like two seemingly immediate consequences. 

I understand the movement to question Facebook's use of data gathering. But when consumers seem dedicated and other online sources use the same methods (such as Google), is there much of an incentive for Facebook to change? For better or for worse, it's safe to say we know how to protect ourselves. But we may also be personally and professionally addicted.

— Ayers is a senior political science major from Cincinnati. She is the opinion and social media editor for The DePauw. opinion@thedepauw.com