Facebook, territory of the government?

November 29, 2011

Political action, Political Theory

The New York Times announced today that Facebook has agreed to the Federal Trade Commission that it will pay a settlement on user’s privacy.  The federal government had accused Facebook of “’unfair and deceptive’ business practices” when in December 2009 changes were made to privacy settings without warning users or gaining their consent.  These changes made public information that users had designated as private and additionally exposed users preferences to advertisers each time a user clicked on an ad.   Facebook is now liable to pay $16,000 a day for each allegation if the settlement is violated in the future.

Founder and chief exec of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said the company had already fixed several of the issues cited by the FTC, according to NYTimes.com.

According to Alexis de Tocqueville, there are divisions in roles and duties between the individual, civil society and state. In lecture, we discussed the idea that within the boundaries of the individual and civil society, there might be religion, recreation and arts & entertainment, and all of these things counted as freedom.  On the other hand, the state and government operates within a separate boundary that is dominated by force.

Knowing this, it would seem that users’ participation on Facebook could be labeled as either having to do with self-interest or a type of recreation.  Facebook may be engaged in as a means of self-expression, and therefore it fits into the boundaries of the individual.  Additionally, some users may utilize Facebook as a pass-time, and therefore it is a form of recreation or entertainment within civil society.  Because Facebook is operating within the realm of either/or the individual and civil society, it would seem that it is separated from the government.  If Facebook is out of the bounds of the government, then it would thereby not be subject to force.  Yet, the Federal Trade Commission, acting as a regent for the government, went after Facebook with the law and succeeded in procuring a settlement.  This seems like a violation of the boundaries that Tocqueville laid out.

            Tocqueville also said that Americans are primarily self-interested and therefore want to engage in civil society and government because it will protect our individual freedom.  If this is true, then perhaps by participating in civil society and government generally, individuals give the government permission to enter their sphere of self-interest.  In that situation, it would be acceptable for the government to interfere in matters of self-interest and entertainment like Facebook.

While the government may have been looking out for the rights of individuals in filing allegations against Facebook, it still seems like an intrusion into the personal and social sphere—which should be outside of the law.  When people join Facebook, they are already signifying to society that their personal information is accessible, so it seems unnecessary that the government become involved.

Do you believe that the Federal Trade Commission is entitled to make allegations against Facebook of this nature?  Is it the duty of the state to regulate information that lies in the realm of and between the individual and civil society?  Or on the contrary, is the regulation of our liberties exactly what the government is supposed to be doing?


About elyssashea

University of Michigan student

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3 Comments on “Facebook, territory of the government?”

  1. ksaukas Says:

    It seems to me that the government was intruding not upon people’s self-interest but instead it acted against Facebook which is a business and it has been established that government can act upon business’ in the past. Also this action by the government was to protect people’s privacy. This is exactly the same when someone steals your social security number or any other information. Mark Zuckerberg portrayed Facebook as keeping people’s private information as private, but instead sold it to advertisers. This is somewhat akin to what an employee at a credit card company would be doing if they sold a card holder’s information (albeit that the damage between the two is very different the principle is the same). When looked at from this prospective the government is not intruding upon our self interest, but instead is protecting our private lives.

  2. emmaknev Says:

    Personally, I don’t think the government should play a big role in people’s personal lives.While I understand that Facebook is a business, and technically the government does have the right to act upon it for this reason, I don’t think it should. In my opinion, I think a Facebook account is something private to each individual. I agree with your idea that since Facebook is a SOCIAL networking site, it is obviously something between an individual and society. So, no, I don’t think that the Federal Trade Commission has a right to make such allegations against Facebook. I would understand if Facebook was proving to be a threat of some sort to the nation as a whole; however, this is not the case. Instead, it is something that allows our nation to feel more connected and allow for people to expand their horizons.

  3. jpstern Says:

    As Mark Zuckerburg recently stated in a facebook blog post, “I founded Facebook on the idea that people want to share and connect with people in their lives, but to do this everyone needs complete control over who they share with at all times.” Zuckerburg understands that people need to know who is seeing what is posted on the internet and the government is just forcing Zuckerberg to comply with his own ideas. For this reason, I believe that the government is just to criticize facebook’s privacy features. As previously commented above, facebook is a SOCIAL site, but people don’t necessarily want to inadvertently share things with people they don’t know, so its important for facebook to make its users aware of how they can protect or share information as they please.

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