Everyone knows Facebook is evil. After all, they single-handedly gave the election to Trump through their nefarious dealings with the Russians… Or at least, that’s what I hear. Whether or not Trump won because of targeted Facebook ads, Facebook did give up data on 85+ million people which is a lot. Moreover, their practice of making deals with “research companies” for Facebook data seems wide open for abuse. Who are these companies and what are they researching? Oh, right. Us.
Given how rotten and disgusting this whole episode was, you’d think some kind of slap on the wrist might be forthcoming for our favorite time suck. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the opposite — not only is Facebook going to get away with their crummy business practices, but they’re actually going to get stronger as a result. Why, you might ask? Think about it — Congresscritters are not going to regulate the golden goose of voter targeting.
Imagine a typical politician’s private response to the Cambridge Analytica story – “Facebook data got Trump elected? I want some of that….” It doesn’t matter if the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica gambit worked really. It’s the possibility that it might have that make it irresistible.
The idea that you can be all powerful with a crack tech team and a big pile of data works because let’s face it — Facebook knows everything about you. For marketers and “researchers” of all stripes, all that so called anonymized, aggregate data must seem incredibly valuable. It means they can tailor their message to the precise psychological profile that Facebook has built for you, and use that message to influence you* — in an effort to get your money, your vote, or perhaps your “support” on an issue.
*There are people, often bloggers, who are hired by companies as Influencers, making this bogus and annoying term a bona fide job title.
What is more annoying than Influencers is the use of psychological profiling to create pools of people for various faceless, nameless parties to influence.Those pools of people are us. I find this high-handed use of Skinnerian behavioral psych to make us do the bidding of whoever not just creepy but wrong. Its not that corporations and governments haven’t always tried to psych us out and thereby control us, but today’s use of data collection and mining goes far beyond little bits of targeted junk mail or that imagined “government file.” Other than telephone, our communications used to be hard to monitor. Today, monitoring our lives is a 24×7 reality, with dozens of parties involved. They even want our appliances to keep tabs on us (and still we do not scream).
As for Facebook, they know everything about us and they want to know more, but when it comes to data protection and privacy, we’re just supposed to trust them. Do not be fooled. Where big money is involved — and you have to know this is huge money — you need transparency and controls. Otherwise, there is very little incentive for them not to sell you out.
Although real regulation will not happen, for cynical reasons, it’s possible that with this and future Facebook scandals, people will start to realize that the facts of their lives are valuable, almost as much as money, and worthy of the same protections. Banks may not like their constraints, but they comply with state regulation. Maybe it’s time we applied some controls to Facebook and other social media companies who at present, have unfettered access to the private lives of billions of people. Unless we force them to answer to someone, they will remain answerable to no one — and the result will be predictable.