Face off: Should social media platforms stop collecting user data?

  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint
  • This week, they discuss whether social media sites should collect personal information
Kelly Fung |
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Should sites like Facebook and Instagram collect and store user data?

Laila Albuquerque, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

With TikTok and Facebook recently coming under fire for privacy violations, it shows there is better awareness nowadays about data collection by social media giants. 

In the early days of the internet, protecting your personal information was seen as a basic human right. But things are different now because there are hundreds of apps that collect our data and make use of it for promotion purposes.

TikTok, in particular, has come under the spotlight, especially with the ongoing US-China trade war. Critics say TikTok users are at risk of their data ending up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

The cyberworld is very complex and difficult to control. So there is only one way to maintain digital privacy: social media platforms should stop collecting user data. 

One of the main problems is that the data collected  by social media networks could be used by hackers or  e-commerce companies for illegal activities.

Using social media platforms to view funny videos or get the latest gossip or information is one thing, but the “Big Brother” that is hiding behind these sites watching what we are doing is worrying.

It is sad that netizens are not aware of, or concerned about what is happening around them, i.e, the theft of personal information that can be used to steal money from people or commit other criminal acts. 

When we are not legally allowed to monitor how our data is being used by social media companies, the idea that they are allowed to cherry-pick that information for their own benefit is very unfair.

So there’s a desperate need to strike a good balance between the rights and responsibilities of social media networks and their users. This can only be done if those networks stop collecting user data.

Face off: Should Hong Kong form travel bubbles during Covid-19?

Zachary Perez Jones, King Edward VI College, England

The truth is that nothing in life is free. Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter survive from the money they gain from advertising. Without it, they would not exist. So it makes sense that they collect information that’s valuable to advertisers. 

What they’re really interested in is the websites you visit most frequently and the things you buy the most. Then they can better target their ads to users.
Without this crucial information, we would be shown adverts that we would not care about and businesses would be less likely to use these platforms. This would mean social media platforms would need to make money another way. Imagine if we had to pay to use all of our favourite apps? 

Our data is not only used for marketing; it has many real-life implications.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an increasingly prominent part of our daily lives, from virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa to search engines such as Google and Yahoo!. The data that we provide to social media companies helps train AI to understand the way that humans work and think, and enhances almost everything we do online. If these platforms didn’t collect user data, most of our latest hi-tech advancements would not have been possible.

Analytics also has a significant influence on the way we conduct business. The data that is collected can help companies better understand what consumers are interested in and provide us with the things that we want. For example, a newspaper or magazine is able to see what articles their online readers prefer and change their coverage accordingly.

As long as our data is kept safe and not shared with third parties such as the government, or private companies and organisations, stopping data collection would negatively impact innovation, business and our economy.

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