The Instigator
Gaz_J03
Pro (for)
Losing
2 Points
The Contender
ReformedArsenal
Con (against)
Winning
10 Points

From a consequentialist's point of view, is Facebook's treatment of user's privacy ethical?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/3/2011 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,355 times Debate No: 16267
Debate Rounds (5)
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Votes (2)

 

Gaz_J03

Pro

What are people's opinions on Facebook's treatment of user's privacy? Is it ethical (from a consequentialist point of view)?

I figured people will be more inclined to think it's unethical so I've taken the opposing arguement that it is in fact ethical ....

I agree that their constant privacy chances are too often, it's wrong that you have to opt-out, not opt-in, to sharing when many of these policy changes take place and that, despite their claims, real control has been taken away from the user despite there being a greater number of complex options to control privacy.

However, Facebook is a business. They have staff, infrastructure and numerous other costs. In addition they have taken some major investment over the years, much beyond what is justified by their turnover and at some point these investors will want a return. You don't pay to use Facebook so surely it's inevitable they will constantly keep trying to figure out to maximise return from their customers?

I often hear people complain they are not happy yet they continue to use the service. I can only assume therefore that they see more benefit from the service than they feel it costs in privacy. For this reason I think it is ethical as, by using its customer's data in this way it can secure its future, not have to charge users and also satisfy its shareholders. Ok, there is a cost, but is this not outweighed by the benefits? If people disagree they can freely quit whenever they want and find an alternative service or solution anyway. So surely this in itself should prevent Facebook tipping the balance too far in their favour?
ReformedArsenal

Con

I would like to thank Pro for proposing this debate.

Since my opponent has defined this debate in light of consequential ethics, I feel that it is important to define consequential ethic.

Rebuttal: My opponent makes a simple claim. Allow me to summarize it.

1) Users have control over their ability to use Facebook.
2) Users chose not to leave Facebook.

You may have noticed it too... there is no "therefore." Pro does not actually provide an argument, simply some prepositions. There appears to be a beginning of an argument that looks to be coming from a utilitarian ethical view when he says "Ok, there is a cost, but is this not outweighed by the benefits?" However, we are not arguing this debate in a utilitarian framework. Since Pro has not provided an argument, he has not fulfilled any burden of proof and at this point the debate goes to me.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
"Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind." [A]

To bring that into a shorter definition: If an action brings about negative consequences, it is unethical.

For evidence, I submit the following article to you: Serial Sex Offender Admits Using Facebook To Rape And Murder Teen. [B] In this article a man named Peter Chapman admits to luring a 17 year old girl to a place where he raped, and murdered her.

For another example: Teen's murder sparks Facebook privacy plea. [C] Another example of a man luring a young girl to be raped and murdered.

One might ask how this person finds these girls? The answer is simple, the privacy settings on their pages were not set correctly. You might say "well, that is the fault of the user." However, whenever Facebook makes a change to their privacy policy, it allows them to reset your privacy settings to whatever they wish. As the second article writes, "the onus is on the user to change their settings from open to private, which means some people may not even realise how much information they're sharing to the outside world."

At this point in the debate, let me establish the argument.

1) Consequentialism argues that if an action results in a negative consequence, it is unethical.
2) Facebook has taken actions regarding their privacy policies that have resulted in the rape and death of at least two young women.
3) Rape and Death are negative consequences.
4) Therefore: Facebook's privacy policies are unethical in consequentialist ethics.

Thank you for reading, I look forward to rebuttals.

[A] http://plato.stanford.edu...
[B] http://www.huffingtonpost.com...
[C] http://www.abc.net.au...
Debate Round No. 1
Gaz_J03

Pro

Thank you for the response, it was very articulate and well structured (more so than my own) and I enjoyed reading it. I only hope I can provide a counter-argument that comes close.

You dismiss some of what I have said on the basis of it being in a utilitarian framework. However, from your source [A] I take the quote "The paradigm case of consequentialism is utilitarianism" so the two are not completely separate issues. You are correct though that I do have a tendency to blur the boundaries here.

Your short definition on consequentialism is concise but lacking. It states if an action brings about negative consequences, it's unethical. However, from my understanding, it's more about if the balance of consequences is negative, it's unethical. For example, if I violently push somebody, this would be classed as assault. However, what if I did so to save them from being hit by a bus? You've still been assaulted, but saved from serious injury/death. Therefore, this could be classed as consequentially ethical.

Also, I'll try and articulate more clearly another point I was making. That is that by making more details public, this gives users more information to browse. This leads to users spending more time on Facebook and therefore being served more ads. By getting more clicks on ads and even just impressions, Facebook can get more revenue from their advertisers. Without maximising their revenue, they cannot guarantee their longevity as they won't be able to keep investors happy with "potential future incomes" forever. This article [i] shows less than two years ago, 1999, they were only just bringing in enough to cover "most of" its day to day business costs and their user base and therefore costs are growing. They have duty to their shareholders/investors to provide a return. To not do so would consequentialy unethical. Failure to get a return, especially in this economic climate, can have several unethical outcomes such as loss of jobs, income, home etc.

On top of this, if Facebook wasn't as open as it is it would prevent cases such as mothers finding their kidnapped children[ii], and if it was down completely it would remove many useful features / interactions from users.

Neither do I think you can claim Facebook is being consequentially unethical towards their users based on the two articles provided. There is nothing to say that murders have been caused by Facebook changing their privacy settings. All that the default privacy setting do is provide other with extra information. A two way relationship is still required to conduct a conversation. Caution should always be exercised. The same way as if a stranger approaches you in the street and asks to be your friend. These murders used Facebook to meet but could have been conducted through Facebook before the privacy changes. They could have also just as easily been carried out through traditional chat rooms, other social networks, or even simply meetings occurring at the local park.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, Facebook doesn't change any custom values when they update their policies. Only values you have left to default to start with. So the user does also have a duty to check these things in addition to exercising common sense and caution.

Thank you for reading, I look forward to your response.

[i] http://www.guardian.co.uk...
[ii] http://news.cnet.com...
ReformedArsenal

Con

My opponent rightly points out that Consequential-ism is a subclass of Utilitarian Ethical Theory, however there is a difference. Utilitarianism is a system in which the maximum amount of happiness (Positive Impact) is ethical, or the minimum amount of pain (Negative Impact) in cases where there is no possible positive impact is possible. Consequential-ism however inverts this by prioritizing the reduction of pain over the increase of pleasure. to rephrase this, if pain/happiness were numerical, avoiding an action that causes a negative ten would trump committing an action of positive ten. Now, while some ethical theorists have attempted to assign numeric value to actions (in both consequentialist and general utilitarian ethics), I do not wish to engage in such a detailed analysis.

In addition, my opponent seeks to undermine my short definition. I shall point you back to the full definition (with emphasis). "Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind."

My opponent then tries to argue that because we are increasing the amount of revenue that Facebook gets (and therefore increase the happiness of the Shareholders and Employees at Facebook) that it is a positive gain worth the negative consequences. However, there are currently more than 500 million active users on Facebook [A]. The negative impact on 500 million users is certainly more significant than the positive impact on the dramatically smaller group of employees and stockholders, especially considering that avoiding negative impact is more important than obtaining positive impact in a consequentialist framework.

My opponent then argues that because of rare cases where Facebook has been used to reunite lost children with their families, that the lax privacy policies are worth the problems. However, in cases like these the lost children are most likely already friends with family, and therefore the privacy policies do not impact access at all.

My opponent states that "There is nothing to say that murders have been caused by Facebook changing their privacy settings. All that the default privacy setting do is provide other with extra information. A two way relationship is still required to conduct a conversation. Caution should always be exercised." However, both articles point to privacy settings as a contribution to the problem. Furthermore, in at least one of the cases the young woman was not "friends" with her murderer... she was a fan of his page. Being a fan does not give the object of fan-ness access to her profile, he was able to access her profile and begin to lure her in because of the privacy settings. Also, the fact that the murders could have happened in other ways, does not invalidate the fact that they DID occur because of Facebook.

My opponent has not shown that privacy has not resulted in the negative consequences mentioned in my previous argument.

[A] http://www.facebook.com...
Debate Round No. 2
Gaz_J03

Pro

Gaz_J03 forfeited this round.
ReformedArsenal

Con

My opponent has forfited the round an therefore has not responded to my arguments. Please carry all my arguments through to the next round.
Debate Round No. 3
Gaz_J03

Pro

Firstly my apologise for missing a round

"Consequential-ism however inverts this by prioritizing the reduction of pain over the increase of pleasure"

Where has this been defined? I am just curious as you may well be right on this point but I’m not aware of this.

"In addition, my opponent seeks to undermine my short definition. I shall point you back to the full definition"

I didn’t make a criticism of your full definition. However you short definition was useless as it was not a concise explanation of what you had said but did in fact omit detail. For anyone unclear on the issue, or simply skim reading you argument may have been misleading.

"My opponent then tries to argue that because we are increasing the amount of revenue that Facebook gets (and therefore increase the happiness of the Shareholders and Employees at Facebook) that it is a positive gain worth the negative consequences. However, there are currently more than 500 million active users on Facebook [A]. The negative impact on 500 million users is certainly more significant than the positive impact on the dramatically smaller group of employees and stockholders, especially considering that avoiding negative impact is more important than obtaining positive impact in a consequentialist framework."

This was an additional point. If they didn’t make the profit, and therefore didn’t exist and provide the service, all of the 500 million + users would also be negatively impacted as well as the shareholders and investors. They clearly see benefit in Facebook and find it productive. This theory is being reinforced as the privacy issue is becoming more and more known, more exposed is occuring and yet there are no signs of the community shrinking, only growing.

"My opponent then argues that because of rare cases where Facebook has been used to reunite lost children with their families, that the lax privacy policies are worth the problems. However, in cases like these the lost children are most likely already friends with family, and therefore the privacy policies do not impact access at all."

They had been kidnapped years earlier; they were not friends of the family. It was only a small example of how Facebook allows people to connect.

".. both articles point to privacy settings as a contribution to the problem. "

This seems more conjecture than fact. Newspapers are not exactly unknown for creating a villan in such stories.

"Furthermore, in at least one of the cases the young woman was not "friends" with her murderer... she was a fan of his page. Being a fan does not give the object of fan-ness access to her profile, he was able to access her profile and begin to lure her in because of the privacy settings. "

You mention the fan page and that the allowance of communication here is a problem. However, it is also a very positive thing. It allows communities with shared interests and hobbies to discuss the subject together. This is an extension of real life. If we join communities and clubs we meet people. These people are what we can refer to as “consequential strangers”. It is through these people we learn new information. There must be fault in this case, as sad as it is, with the victim. We must always exercise caution in any situation. If I meet you a girl in a bar, a club, on the internet, wherever...if I ask her to meet me somewhere at a later date...common sense says we should exercise caution. Especially as we know a person’s picture may not be them or their information may be false.

Please remember, Facebook didn’t create your social network, they have just tried to digitise a representation of it and the new changes actually are a truer reflection to reality. It is the user who has to accept that just because they are behind a screen, dangers do exist and hey must treat situations and people as they would in physical reality.

p.s. will you meet me sometime, i'd like to discuss this further. How about the dark alley behind McDonalds? Or would you perhaps trust me more if I asked you via Facebook?
ReformedArsenal

Con

My opponent is making a very clear argument. Allow me to summarize it.

"Facebook benefits a lot of people, therefore it is okay that terrible things happen because of it."

Lets break that into theoretical variables.

500,000,000 individuals of class (A) benefit from activity (B) at the detriment of 4 individuals of class (C). Class (A) derives more overall benefit than the negative impact of Activity (B) on class (C), therefore it is not unethical.

Let's propose a few concrete fill ins for the hypothetical.

500,000,000 men gang rape 4 young women. However, those 500,000,000 men enjoy the activity immensely. Therefore it is not unethical.

Lets do another one.

500,000,000 students cheat on a test, and therefore cause the hard work of 4 students to be degraded to essentially worthless. However, the 500,000,000 students benefit positively from the activity, so it is unethical.

One more, for good measure?

500,000,000 people break into your house and steal all your things. However, since they benefit positively from the activity, it is not unethical.

Now, you may see this as an appeal to emotion... and it is. However, this is a debate that deals with emotions. Utilitarianism and Consequentialism as a whole are ethical theories based on emotion... so we must consider these emotions in our discussion.

Please recognize the danger inherent in the kind of argument that my opponent is making. If something has enough positive impact to outweigh the negative impact, it is necessarily ethical. The logical conclusion we can make from this argumentation is that anything can be ethical, if enough people enjoy it.
Debate Round No. 4
Gaz_J03

Pro

The examples my opponent has given are massively misleading and biased. Unethical situations are described but are not relevant to the Facebook case. I will discuss why later in this reply.

Now, you may see this as an appeal to emotion... and it is. However, this is a debate that deals with emotions. Utilitarianism and Consequentialism as a whole are ethical theories based on emotion... so we must consider these emotions in our discussion.

In true utilitarianism it would be ok for a small number of people to be kept as slaves to increase the positive impact for the community as a whole, so I disagree they are inherently emotional. The use of emotions here has done nothing other than tried to bias people, in a misleading way, towards your side of the argument.

Please recognize the danger inherent in the kind of argument that my opponent is making. If something has enough positive impact to outweigh the negative impact, it is necessarily ethical. The logical conclusion we can make from this argumentation is that anything can be ethical, if enough people enjoy it.

I disagree entirely. This is not my point at all. You will never create a 100% safe environment when it comes to an online social network because it’s an extension of the real world. It therefore reflects the threats that exist within the real world. Unethical things do happen and we must apply common sense and caution. We cannot blame a website! You gave an examples such as :

500,000,000 men gang rape 4 young women. However, those 500,000,000 men enjoy the activity immensely. Therefore it is not unethical.

You examples are misleading. They demonstrate a large group of people actively doing something they enjoy and this act harms the unwilling passive minority. Not the case. With the case of Facebook, a third party creates the environment and many people participate. The large majority enjoy it but this majority does not cause the harm. There are very tiny percentages that come to harm, and they come to harm through taking risks. I will give an example which is more apt to the case we are studying as yours is definitely not successfully reflecting the true nature of the situation.

BeachParty Inc have organised a party which has been going on for many years and the attendance has grown to 500,000,000. They are making a loss. They used to check everyone for drugs when they arrived but they have made changes to become profitable and they no longer do this. If they checked everyone they would be making a loss and there wouldn’t be another party. People would lose out on the experience and the organisers would have to make many people unemployed and create losses for shareholders and investors.

During the night 500,000,000 people are really enjoying their evening but unfortunately there have been 2 people taken to hospital. They had brought and taken drugs and collapsed. You cannot say BeachParty Inc have been unethical. The casualties have taken a risk and paid the price. I am not saying this is not unfortunate or upsetting but the fact is certain people CHOOSE to take certain risks and suffer for it. People are responsible for their own actions, you cannot blame the environment. In this case it happened at the party, but the organisers weren't to blame.

If Facebook closed tomorrow, how many less deaths, rapes etc do you think there would be? I would suggest there would be no change. There are disturbed, sick individuals out there who have undoubtedly used Facebook. However, they wouldn’t sit at home knitting because Facebook had been closed. So not only has the overall harm not increased because of Facebook but we have more importantly just demonstrated that when harm occurs, Facebook is not to blame. We have also discussed the large benefit the user base gain from using the site.

When reviewing this debate, I ask readers to read my arguments and not the simplified versions my opponent has selected to choose, demonstrate in a biased way and use as a base for reply. I suspect my opponent may draft a biased, incomplete summary of the argument as a final reply so I ask readers look at all the posts and draw their own conclusions.
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I guess that’s the last reply I can make on this debate. I would like to thank my opponent for taking part in my first debate here. I have enjoyed it.
ReformedArsenal

Con

My opponent makes a reasonable case. He argues that in the real world, we must recognize that there are some things we cannot prevent. We must recognize that there are dangers out there, and that we cannot make a website 100% safe.

However, this debate is not about the real world. This is about the actions of a website within the theoretical framework of consequentialism. The actions of Facebook, in creating a medium in which predators can prey on victims, are unethical.

My opponent uses the case of BeachParty Inc. My opponent argues that ""If they checked everyone they would be making a loss and there wouldn't be another party. People would lose out on the experience an the organizers would have to make many people unemployed and create losses for shareholders and investor." So I must ask the question... how many share holders and investors equal a life? How many share holders and investors must be made happy before it is worth someone dying over? That seems to be the argument my opponent is making. Enough shareholders are made happy, so it is okay that someone gets hurt or dies. Is that something that you as the reader an sign on to?

Beyond that, my opponent argues that BeachPary Inc cannot be held responsible for creating the environment in which someone is killed or injured. Why? If they did not create this environment, the person would not get killed or injured. My opponent has specifically pointed out that they stopped enforcing safety and legal requirements because it was too costly. To me, that is about as unethical as you can get. What if I say "It is too costly to pay my taxes." or "It is too costly for me to pay for the products I want."

Consider this kind readers, my opponent's argument breaks down simply to this: Something is ethical if it creates a greater net gain in happiness than a net loss, therefore Facebook's actions are ethical because it creates a greater net gain in happiness than a net loss. What if your happiness was the one sacrificed for the other net gain. What if it was your daughter, sister, girlfriend, or wife that was killed because of Facebook? Would you be okay saying "Well... I can't challenge the ethics, Facebook makes a lot of people happy." I know I couldn't... can you?
Debate Round No. 5
No comments have been posted on this debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 6 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
Gaz_J03ReformedArsenalTied
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Total points awarded:25 
Reasons for voting decision: Interesting and informative debate from a new member 1 pt, however well developed and sourced argument from Reformed and a forfeit by Pro have to make this a dominating performance 5:2 Reformed.
Vote Placed by Dimmitri.C 6 years ago
Dimmitri.C
Gaz_J03ReformedArsenalTied
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: I agreed with ReformedArsenal's argumentation and arguments.