If You Really Think That Facebook Stole Your Data, Unfriend Me Now.

March 28, 2018

 

Facebook is being blamed for Donald Trump’s election, Scotland’s vote to remain, Britain’s vote to leave, a generation of unemployable self-obsessed illiterates, and the deaths of journalism, privacy and democracy.

 

We’re facing the bitter aftertaste of guzzling a cocktail of corporate greed, Russian sabotage, anomic vanity, lethargic legislation, and auto-accepting the T&Cs for every app, website and WiFi provider we've encountered.

 

Facebook’s Pixels have been watching us for nearly as long as Google's. Both sell our data as a product to their clients. That's how an app that you downloaded for free, earned $40 Billion last year.

 

 

Clients of Lookalike Audiences have openly paid to manipulate groups' opinions, long before anyone from Cambridge Analytica blew their whistle.

 

If you’re curious which of your data are for sale, it’s one of the more transparent practices of Facebook, Google and their ilk. Dylan Curran provides an excellent summary here.

 

 

 

LinkedIn influencers may laugh at Facebook fans, but if you've used LinkedIn to access a conference's WiFi, they've likely sold the emails, career histories, and phone numbers of all your 1st and 2nd degree connections.

Let’s not pretend any of this is a truly a surprise. We all knew there was no such thing as a free app, and this isn’t even the first time we’ve heard this story.

 

“A company called Profile Engine was able to glean details of 420 million Facebook users in 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal.”Karissa Bell, Mashable.

 

Why have we voluntarily shared our personal data with companies that openly sell them? Companies with terrible records of protecting them?

 

We invite comfort into our homes as a guest, and soon become its slave. In 20 years, we may reminisce about our naïveté, the way people remember keeping their doors unlocked, or walking unaccompanied to school.

 

We gave our full names, addresses, photos, birthdates, and passwords. The default settings are to share our location, internet and purchase histories with multiple advertising platforms, their clients, and their partners.

 

Should you give your phone number to a cryptocurrency trading platform? Well, two factor authentication makes everything more secure, right?

 

If your pet's name is your password, you'll need an alternate security question. No problem, just give your mother’s maiden name to multiple sites!

 

Should you save all your passwords on your browser and your phone? Did that site demand lowercase, uppercase, numbers, or special characters? Why isn’t your password working for this app? Ah fuck it, just sign in with Facebook.

 

If you’re smart, you probably wouldn’t volunteer the data of your entire network to a Philippines based lead generation company. So you’re safe, as long as no one in your friends list has taken one of those quizzes to find out which Game of Thrones character they’re most like.

 

Our addiction to this free and convenient media, kept us willfully blind to the hidden costs. Complicit to the dismantling of quality journalism, we proudly sneered at our independence from mainstream media like a teenager outgrowing a stuffy authority figure. What grew in the vacuum was self-aggrandising clickbait and the echo chambers of our chosen networks. We freely supplied enough data for these platforms to trap us in the reflections of our own narcissism.

 

The power of this phenomenon has made social media platforms too profitable, too automated, and too far ahead of legislation to care about the consequences.

 

“The largest antitrust fine in EU history bounced off Google like a spitball off a battleship.” Roger McNamee, An early Facebook investor.

 

As is often the case, the most convenient path, isn’t the most substantive. Microwave dinners aren’t as healthy as home cooked meals, drugs are an unearned ticket to the sense of oneness achieved through meditation, and our addiction to easy access to free media has proven yet another expensive shortcut.

Were we dishonestly manipulated?

 

Tech continues to push beyond the boundaries of society’s comprehension. It creates opportunities and challenges not yet anticipated, or legislated for. It makes magicians and villains of some, and fools of many more.

 

This isn’t a new phenomenon, Episode #86 of Reply All’s superb Podcast tells the story of Dr. John Brinkley, who mastered the new technology of radio over a public and government unprepared for its power. Offering false promises with claims for his alternative medicine, this is the 1930s chapter of a long history of media moguls manipulating the masses.

 

In that instance it took a very public lawsuit to turn the tide of public opinion against Brinkley. Regrettably, ads for alternative medicine are still as prevalent in today’s media, as they were in the 1930s.

 

 

 

Whether Mark Zuckerberg will be viewed as a magician, or a villain, will depend on how authentically he responds to the current backlash.

Before we pile on too harshly, let’s remember that history will also make a judgement on us all. Were we a foolishly naïve herd, willingly sacrificing our rights to a free press and fair elections for convenience, vanity and entertainment?

 

 

 

Chris Cooke uses his pet’s name as his password, has a Master’s in Group Psychology, and a social media addiction.

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