Reflections on Privacy in the Age of Global Electronic Data Processing with a Focus on Data Processing Practices of Facebook


In this paper I will argue that (1) individuals that are part of a community do not have full control over how information about themselves are communicated to others. Whenever we write some text messages or when we orally tell secrets to our best friend, we live with the possibility that parts and derivates of that information eventually reach unintended receivers. (2) However, there is a difference between losing control over the distribution of information and giving control to a central instance that channels communication. Facebook is a central instance that channels digital messages over a platform that is controlled, maintained and observed by Facebook. This changes the dynamics and rules of digital messaging. (3) Although Facebook presents itself as a public service to empower people and to make the world more open and connected, the service is itself closed and isolated, an experimental lab in which data flows between users are observed and categorized in order to create user profiles, summarize the profiles to target groups, and present them to advertizers and - if asked - law enforcement agencies. (4) Fortunately, social network services like Facebook are at an early stage in which users sometimes find ways to influence the evolution of the service. I summarize a recent case in which the student Max Schrems managed to put pressure on Facebook in order to change their data processing practices.