I don’t actually mind Facebook, Twitter and the likes having access to my data. I can appreciate that these platforms are supported by a wealth of infrastructure, employees and processes which cost billions to maintain. I’m too tight and lazy to pay for a subscription based service so accept that they would be selling details about me to advertisers to make a profit.
I don’t find the targeted adverts that annoying because they are just that… targeted at me. When YouTube advertising launched, I was constantly bombarded with videos from Clearblue (“You’ve already been to the docccctttooorrrs?” GAH!) which I assume must’ve been purely based on my age seeing as I NEVER google anything baby related or pay attention to anything baby related on YouTube itself.
Now that advertising has become a lot more targeted, I’m now seeing more adverts from products and services that actually interest me.
So to summarise – I don’t mind targeted advertising, and I understand why it needs to be done. I’m however not suffering from mental health issues….and this is why I don’t actually think collecting data at this scale is okay.
Facebook earlier this month apologised after attempting to exploit emotionally vulnerable teens by collecting data on when kids as young as 14 were feeling worthless or insecure.
By tracking posts, they could identify exactly what was worrying them – body image, feeling overwhelmed etc.
Although Facebook claimed that they weren’t collecting this data to share with advertisers but just to understand their user base better, I think this is stepping into dangerous and highly unethical territory.
Although they may be telling the truth about their intentions – how long until advertisers are using this sort of data to target teens? They are already bombarded with airbrushed instagram models, surgically enhanced influencers and reality stars pushing weightloss products, its only a matter of time before adverts start appearing on timelines based on moods (otherwise, why would they collect that data in the first place?)
Also, how long until recruitment teams have access to this sort of data? A 2016 NatCen British Social Attitudes survey, for example, found that 44% of people would be “uncomfortable” working with someone who’d experienced symptoms of psychosis. This stat would certainly encourage businesses to rate the mental health of a candidate if they could.
Could collecting data on mental health ever be good?
Some may argue that collecting data on our physical health is already widely accepted so why wouldn’t mental health be the next step? Especially when collecting this sort of data could potentially help mental health charities understand triggers a little better.
The issue is however that you can’t simply silo mental health issues – many are unique and people have different symptoms and different circumstances. Any data collection projects would become generalised, exploitative and inaccurate.
We always have to remember as well that although this is a nice thought that this data can be used for good; Facebook is a booming business so nothing will be done with this data unless it of course provides financial gains for the organisation.