Daily Mail feature writer Steven Glover certainly thinks so, and addresses public concerns in this article.
"Do internet giants have a moral obligation to tell the authorities if they unearth terrorists planning an outrage? Almost everyone would say that of course they do...."
And so here’s a can of the very finest worms that technology can contrive to put together, that goes to the heart of the timeless debate on the nature of freedom: freedom of expression, or freedom to conspire to murder? Where and how are the lines to be drawn. It's intellectually very easy to end up in either camp with an air of self righteousness.
Many people are all too keen to exploit what's left of their freedoms to destroy themselves through there own wilful stupidity (and the Darwin awards are a wonderful journey through this topic) - but where is the point at which intervention is called for (and by whom)? Many would suggest the breaking point is when others are put in jeopardy by the selfish assumptions of the libertarian. And in the case of the UK's NHS, when the individual wilfully damages their own health and expects the public purse to repair the damage.
Should Facebook be taken to task for failing to report blatantly obvious terrorist conversations to the UK security services? Given the way Facebook advertising operates, no one is going to believe for a second that Facebook does not have the means to spot not just the keywords, but the context and surrounding circumstances that scream out - "hey, this person is clearly up to no good!"
So given that Facebook employs the most invasive and inquisitive analysis of every keystroke typed and picture posted on the site, Glover's seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction by the already highly regulated UK press as it faces further controls from misguided busybodies who are keen to assist all those who have something awkward to hide. The sophistication of the surveillance process being carried out is beyond extreme, and a long way beyond a simple keyword scan. It is fast approaching the full panoply of psycho-analytical techniques once featured as science fiction in movies like Minority Report. There is lots of advice out there from the Greats:
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. Abraham Lincoln"
I have long suspected that there is an unholy alliance between the tech behemoths and governments – a series of satanic deals and Mephistophelean arrangements that allows the online behemoths to carry on driving a coach and horses through monopoly, copyright, privacy and tax legislation in return for providing a level of snooping on private citizens' intelligence that all governments secretly crave, but that no democracy could possibly "sell" to the voters. I even suspect this story of being contrived to make it seem as if Facebook doesn't already shop its users as a matter of course.
Edward Snowden's intervention clumsily made an important point about confidentiality of information that applies equally at the personal level: unless you have been through some sort of "Stepford" conditioning and are the most boring person imaginable, we all going to say things in "private" (whatever that means these days) that we would be horrified to find exposed in the "media".
God help any politicians for actually speaking their mind and saying what they really think; it's bound to upset someone - although it should be welcomed as providing a window on the soul of the real person, that is usually hidden behind the spin and carefully managed messages. The complex task of managing expectations around "social mores" tries to define what that maelstrom of confused morality and hypocrisy known as "public opinion" regards is "appropriate" and "inappropriate" - and where and how to operate the ever shifting definitions.
So do you really want to vote for the real person - warts and all? Would you make allowances for candour that offset any uneasiness that you might feel as a result of insights into the inconvenient truth and character insights? Or would you prefer to continue to see only the carefully sanitised and spun version, that focus groups have defined as "safe and electable"? There is a clear implication in life that suggests those who speak candidly in the wrong place and time betray a fundamental flaw of judgement that can never be trusted with any important confidence. A loose canon in the organisation is becoming the greatest fear of our times, now that nothing is ever forgotten or can ever be undone. It means most people of character and opinion fail to make the cut of public life, Winston Churchill would not be electable in these newly puritanical times; mind you, Jimmy Savile would have not have latest very long, either. Swings and roundabouts.
Many celebs of the 60s and 70s bemoan the reality that bedding a 14 year old fan was the "done thing" and no one batted an eyelid; indeed it was expected - but doubtless someone reading this will be tutting that I should even approach the point of seeking to excuse or condone such behaviour. So please excuse me (victims of modern social engineering) if you have been excised of the ability to think and judge for yourselves by the endless propaganda of mind-controllers and nanny statists, who are determined to think for all of us.
Times change, all history in mostly bunk and always spun by the winners. All society moves on and adapts; it should be free to do this in the context of the realities and requirements of current times - and not under the cosh of the bullying political correction that causes people to be dishonest with themselves. Never mind dishonest with those around them - and nowhere is this duplicity more obvious than in the dreadful professional political class that has broken the world. This veil of contrived probity inevitably slips and we occasionally get a candid glimpse of the real person when an unguarded social media moment occurs. Ex cabinet-minister David Mellor's petulant tirade recorded (without his knowledge, of course) in the back of a London cab is a classic. The irony is that such moments of candour and truth then result in the "honest" politician being fired for giving a glimpse of their true selves!
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same. Ronald Reagan"
Genuine freedom to be yourself - where being yourself involves a trip outside the presently fashionable mores of the moment - is definitely a thing of the past when every one carries a phone camera and digital recorder. The moment of madness when you mooned at the Queen will be around the world in seconds. Those worms in the Facebook can are really wriggling by now!
Facebook's crude invasion of my "privacy" really came home to me a couple of years back when within seconds of being tagged in a photo on someone’s feed, I got weight loss commercials. Bloody cheek. So I now block all tagging and use the magnificent Adblock software.
So does Facebook conflate the notion of freedom of the people and their right to express themselves with its own freedom to exploit every unwitting nuance in a user's interactions with the world for its shareholders' gain..? Yes, of course we know it's all there is small print somewhere, but small print is widely (but unwisely) regarded as joke and few users are ready to spend the same money on having their lawyer check it out that companies like Facebook and Apple spent on getting teams of duplicitous legal hacks to assemble documents of supreme ambiguity and one-sided benefit.
"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. George Washington"
If you use Facebook you already are the product, not the customer. You already only have as much choice in the matter as those sheep in George's abattoir!
The matter of being in any way responsible for what Facebook users are saying boils down the The old idea of “common carrier” immunity was devised to absolve postal and other transport services of responsibility for transporting “unlawful” content and cargo by accepting that it would be impractical, impossible and unreasonable to do otherwise. It carried into the world of telecoms - no phone company could reasonably control what was said by its users. It is plainly evident that online companies have easy access to the content they carry and so the ancient defence of Common Carrier is not credible.
Meantime, in many countries the thought police have already transformed freedom of speech into freedom not to offend. And boy, there are a lot of people who are easily offended these days - race and religion and all manner of vociferous minorities have created sanctuaries where only comments that exude tolerance, sweetness and light are permitted. There is no progressively less scope for freedom of expression - but never in the history of human experience has any authority ever handed back or cancelled any ability to suppress any individual freedom, without a bloody struggle.
Automated surveillance of everyone and everything is out of hand, requiring all those engaging in it to pass their discoveries to "government" is probably the thin end of a very big wedge. Maybe the answer is not to require Facebook to pass on terrorist clues to security services, but to ask - then order - Facebook (and the rest!) to desist from any and all automated interception of its users and their content, and rely on the people to report the misdeeds as they are uncovered by real people in the course of real life. It's about being a responsible society, and that should be an opt-in mindset.
If that means they cannot fund from advertising based on stealing identities, then so be. They will have to charge for the services! Meantime, we are all paying for Facebook and Google's so-called "free services" with something that is far more precious than mere money.
"Real freedom is having nothing. I was freer when I didn't have a cent. Mike Tyson"
Governments know this, and are scared of groups like survivalists who simply don't need them. They all want their citizens to have something to lose; it makes keeping them in line under the threat of losing that something, a lot simpler.