Mark Zuckerberg, Cambridge Analytica and the Death of Privacy

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Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg and the Death of Privacy: What about us living outside America?

A lot of us owe so much to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg today – probably even our lives. He has created something phenomenal; probably nothing in all human existence after Babel beats Facebook.

Humans connecting in such a seamless network that they can do practically anything; from remembering the birthdays of close friends to checking on people in war torn countries.

He stressed this in his defence in front of the U.S. congress. In his words:

Just recently, we’ve seen the “Me Too” movement and the March for our Lives organised, at least in part, on Facebook. After Hurricane Harvey, people came together to raise more than $20 million for relief. And more than 70 million businesses — small business use Facebook to create jobs and grow.

Listening to him deliver his speech, you would see a man who has learned to please the crowd while making a slingshot for rebound dunk like Michael Jordan would have done. He apologised for letting the world down while setting up something so immense that we cannot now imagine life without it. Mark simply let us all realise how reliant on Facebook our lives, businesses and even nations have become.

You will see the skill and craft with which he told the story of how Facebook started from his dorm room. How they could never have envisaged that such a tool would end up in the wrong hands. During the questioning, Mark shows the U.S. senators that this data breach by Cambridge Analytica was a lesson for them and that it had informed them of a loophole they could not have envisaged.

But was he truly ignorant all along? Did they at any point discover that this loophole existed?

Forty four members of committees representing the U.S. Senate were at the hearing where Mark proved that he not only knew there would be a breach but also proved that Facebook’s business model was built on data manipulation.

A quiz app used by approximately 300,000 people led to information about 87 million Facebook users being obtained by the company Cambridge Analytica.

In summary, the app got the consent of some Facebook users to gather their information and those of their friends. You can watch the hearing to get more details.

Two salient issues I would like to point out here:

1. I suspect that Facebook’s defence based on lack of anticipation of such a breach does not hold water given their business model.
2. The implications of this event on countries outside the U.S. Countries such as Nigeria.

First we must note the hesitation by Mark to assent to Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida)’s query about child data protection and attempts to monetise data protection.

Senator Nelson asked Mark if they really intended to make people pay for their data to be protected and if he would support a bill outlawing the unauthorised use of data from children under the age of 16 years.

Mark’s hesitation to answer these two questions point to the fact that Facebook’s business model is actually built on data monetisation. This is actually common knowledge in data analytics and digital marketing.

The ability of e-commerce retailers like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google to target advertisement relies on how much data they can collect from their website visitors. Unlike Google and Amazon however, Facebook has an immense ability to access the most intimate details about your life from wherever you are all over the world. Two billion users! Think about this!

How else would a free platform such as Facebook make profit? You couldn’t reasonably expect to have all this access to all your loved ones all over the world and not give Lord Zuck something in return? He has to have some money to keep the platform free for us all to use. This, he stated in his reply to Senator Nelson. He said:

“In order to not run adverts at all, we would still need some sort of business model.”

It’s clear that asking Facebook data gathering and usage to be heavily regulated and restricted is like asking them to stop running targeted ads and, in effect, asking that the current business model be discarded.

Now, let’s think about Nigeria. How many of us even have a say in this matter? A lot of us are targeted by multi-nationals based on our daily online habits.

We chat recklessly with our friends. Do video calls to no end and practically live on Facebook. How do we know that these external agents are not laying hold of our data and influencing elections all over the world?

We know that Cambridge Analytica ran data on Nigeria, but do we know how far they got with that project? The rampage of fake news and its effect on the economic welfare of third world nations or developing countries like Nigeria would be paradigm-shifting. Can we even fathom the kind of power that is available to Mark and every willing buyer?

Many of us do not even believe in the ability to manipulate our emotions, decisions or habits using data. This may be the right time to start considering the possibilities. Mundane things like “Friend suggestions” require powerful algorithms that influence even the networks you build based and what you perceive as reality.

At this point, it’s important to realise there is no point whining about internet or Facebook stealing your data or privacy. You have only two options as a non-U.S. Facebook user, either stay off the internet or embrace a life without privacy. We are not alone.

 

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