Revelations about the depths of Facebooks failure to protect our data have finally drew back the drapery, commentators say
” Dumb fucks .” That’s how Mark Zuckerberg described customers of Facebook for trusting him with their personal data back in 2004. If the last week is anything to go by, he was right.
Since the Observer reported that the personal data of about 50 million Americans had been harvested from Facebook and improperly shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, it has become increasingly apparent that the social network has been far more lax with its data sharing practices than many consumers realised.
As the scandal unfurled over the last seven days, Facebook’s lackluster response has highlighted a fundamental challenge for the company: how can it condemn the practice on which its business model depends?
” This is the tale we have been waiting for so people will pay attention not only to Facebook but the entire surveillance economy ,” told Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.
Since Zuckerberg’s ” dumb fucks” comment, Facebook has gone to great lengths to convince members of the public that it’s all about” connecting people” and” constructing a global community “. This pseudo-uplifting marketing speak is much easier for employees and users to stomach than the mission of” guzzling personal data so we can micro-target you with advertise “.
In the wake of the revelations that Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data collected by Dr Aleksandr Kogan for the purposes of the guise of academic research, Facebook has scrambled to blame these rogue third party for” platform mistreat “.” The entire company is outraged “were in” misled ,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
However in highlighting the apparent deceit, the company has been forced to shine a light on its underlying business modeling and years of careless data sharing practices.
Sure, the data changed hands between health researchers and Cambridge Analytica in apparent violation of Kogan’s agreement with Facebook, but everything else was above board. The amount of data Cambridge Analytica got hold of and used to deliver targeted advertising based on personality types- including activities, interests, check-ins, locating, photos, religion, politics, relationship details- was not unusual in the slightest. This was a feature , not a bug.
There are thousands of other developers, including the makers of the dating app Tinder, plays such as FarmVille, as well as consultants to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, who slurped huge quantities of data about consumers and their friends- all thanks to Facebook’s overly permissive “Graph API”, the interface through which third party could interact with Facebook’s platform.
Facebook opened up in order to attract app developers to join Facebook’s ecosystem at a time when the company was playing catch-up in shifting its business from desktops to smartphones. It was a symbiotic relationship that was critical to Facebook’s growth.
” They wanted to push just as much of the conversation, ad revenue and digital activity as is practicable and attained it exceedingly friendly to app developers ,” told Jeff Hauser, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.” Now they are grumbling that the developers abused them. They wanted that. They were encouraging it. They may now regret it but they knowingly unleashed the forces that have led to this lack of trust and loss of privacy .”
The words were updated in April 2014 to restrict the data new developers could get hold of, including people’s friends’ data, but simply after four years of access to the Facebook firehose. Companies that plugged in before April 2014 had another time before access was restricted.
” There are all sorts of companies that are in possession of terabytes of information from before 2015 ,” told Hauser.” Facebook’s practices don’t bear up to close, informed scrutiny nearly as well as they look from the 30,000 ft view, which is how people had been viewing Facebook previously .”
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