Can Violating Privacy Save Lives?

By Garrett Stanczak


Two weeks ago, one of the comments to my posts asked me how I felt about the use of targeted advertising and whether or not I felt it was creepy. I replied that I did not, as targeted advertising only uses information that users themselves choose to make available, but it did get me thinking. While I certainly believe in the good social media can do, I am concerned that there is a negative potential, especially in regards to privacy.

Doubtless you have seen people posting on their favorite social media platforms about their interests and about the recent developments in their lives. In fact, anyone who follows my own Twitter account will find themselves very aware of my interest in Pokemon, King Kong, Moana, and my disdain for the results of the Presidential Election.

However, in an article for USA today, Sharon Jayson writes about how social media sites are paying close attention to this information as well. Sites such as Google and Facebook are using this information to perform academic research. As she writes “just consider that mining online communication has already helped Microsoft identify women at risk of postpartum depression” (2014).

As a proponent of research for the good of humanity, I can’t help but see the advantages in that last sentence. By studying people who suffer from depression in an uncontrolled environment like social media, we can develop better treatments, and maybe even save lives. That being said, ignoring the ethics of research is a slippery slope, and disregarding a person’s right to privacy is the first step on that slope.

Not only is violating privacy morally wrong, but it can also negatively affect the company that partakes in it. We live in an age where the consumer has more power than ever before and companies must fight hard to stay on his or her good side. Social media sites that violate a consumer’s trust can find themselves in serious trouble. As an example, Jeff Clark writes for Data Center Journal, “Twitter, for instance, faces an uncertain future thanks to quarter after quarter of serious losses as well as a recent executive shakeup” (2015).

In summary, while I do applaud people who use social media to better the world around them, it is important that they not violate people’s privacy. Not just for moral reasons, but for the sake of social media’s future as well.

Social media research raises privacy and ethics issues by Sharon Jayson, 2014

Privacy Concerns a threat to social media? by Jeff Clark, 2015

Garrett Stanczak’s Twitter Feed

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2 thoughts on “Can Violating Privacy Save Lives?

  1. Social media definitely flirts with that line called privacy. I’ve also been the recipient of those targeted ads, and while I’ve occasionally browsed them because they interest me, I’ve also felt like my privacy had been breached. It is a deeply unsettling feeling that I wish to avoid in the future. Though social media may think it is doing a service for consumers everywhere be creating ads that target their specific interests, they must also consider the same consumers right to privacy.


  2. I whole heartedly agree. Recently I’ve noticed ads on FaceBook, as well as some non-social media sites, that are either remarkably coincidental or they’re going through my browsing history. While I understand why advertisers do it, and like you said I applaud when they use it to legitimately help people, it’s unnerving. We go online to experience the world as we can choose it, as we can choose to define ourselves, and having somebody looking over our shoulder really is a violation of that freedom. Hopefully companies will back off one day, but I have my doubts.


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