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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

When data collection runs amok

Is privacy a thing of the past?

A suit filed this week claims Facebook violated

A suit filed this week claims Facebook violated federal housing laws. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / NORBERTO DUARTE

Has Facebook reached its tipping point?

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book of the same name, a tipping point is “a moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

The Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida and the massive student response, including huge rallies last weekend, may have been the tipping point on finally passing sane gun laws, while Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive behavior toward women seemed to have been the last straw regarding predators getting a pass on sexual harassment.

Facebook recently reached its own moment of reckoning with the revelation that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained personal data from 50 million unsuspecting Facebook users that could be used to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before Congress to answer questions on how such a breach could occur. He reportedly has decided to testify on Capitol Hill and is working out the details, according to news reports citing confidential sources. And, on Tuesday several housing groups sued the company in federal court, claiming Facebook allowed landlords and real estate companies to discriminate by allowing them to only tailor ads to specific audiences.

Facebook collects information on everything from our birthdays, families and friends to where we live and work. I’m shocked that this info could be misused. Maybe that’s because I’ve been too busy dealing with the fallout from my personal data being stolen from Equifax, Target and eBay.

Have you filled out a fun quiz on Facebook designed to trick you into revealing personal data? Join the crowd. We have been mindlessly relinquishing our privacy, and are now paying the price. Sure, it’s nice to get birthday wishes from scores of friends (some of whom you wouldn’t recognize if you tripped over them), but is it worth the trade-off? Did you think Zuckerberg let you share photos of your cat out of the goodness of his heart?

Facebook is far from the only social media network profiting from your personal data, and monetizing personal information is nothing new. But when it is used for questionable purposes, and without our knowledge, a red line has been crossed.

Mining personal data affects everything from getting a job or loan to being detained at an airport. Too many vital decisions are already made without our knowledge, input or consent. If we don’t demand laws mandating a ban on unauthorized data collection, we have only ourselves to blame.

Feel free to comment on this piece. Remember, I know where you live. Kidding! (Or am I?)

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.

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