Friday, May 25, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook Fiasco

What the Zuck has Facebook done now?

I’m a little late to the game, so most people have probably already heard of or have been closely following Facebook’s crisis that has unfolded over the last few weeks. In summary, Facebook was found to have been selling user data to a firm called Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm based in the UK with the mission of “changing audience behavior”. The issue at hand is that Facebook’s sharing/selling of this data to Cambridge Analytica might have lead to a shift in the mindset of Facebook users that in turn lead to an influence on the US election, with specific targets being made by Cambridge Analytica to undermine the Democratic candidates. What was most interesting to me as this news unfolded to the general public was the reaction of people to the fact that so much data about them is being collected, and that is specifically what I would like to address in this post.

When the news first unfolded that Facebook had an immense amount of data on each user, people were shocked. Personalized ads based on conversations, suggestions made on friends people had never searched up, and other things were throwing people off Facebook and the entire data collection aspect of tech companies. This is extremely odd to me for a few reasons, the first being that, how can we be offended that tech companies collect our data when their collection and analysis of that data is what gives each user the experience they demand from modern technology? There is pretty much very little way for us to increase our sense of comfort and luxury without giving away huge amounts of personal information. In fact, much of the convenience we demand from tech relies on its ability to monitor data from our lives, like our “likes”, places we tend to visit a lot, or our favorite flavor of ice cream. Facebook knowing what type of music I listen to has done much more good for me than harm, since it recommends new artists, pages for me to “like”, and upcoming concerts based on that. As for people who now threaten to delete all their Facebook services in protest…I think being aware of what we data and information are giving away would certainly be beneficial, but I don't agree that deleting your social media (Facebook services specifically) will somehow protect you. It gets you off the grid maybe, but that comes at a huge personal expense in terms of the level of luxury and access you've been used to.

However, there needs to be a new level of tech literacy and awareness which users of these services currently do not have. These industries only exist because they are not transparent and because the public is not directly aware. People need to start being exposed to more technology and being tech savvy enough to have the critical thinking required to make good decisions about what is infringing upon their online and personal rights and what isn't. But that isn't the fault of the average consumer – it's that advancements are moving too fast for education to keep up. Tech advancement happens so quickly and at such a ridiculous pace it's not unreasonable to expect people not to understand what is going on 100% of the time. I agree that perhaps people did "agree" in the terms and conditions and that, even though no one reads it, you're responsible for your own self. But I feel uneasy placing blame for this situation on the general public because I think it's not an accessible route of thinking for people who aren't exposed to Silicon Valley and it's “slimy” tendencies.

But the gross misuse of consumer trust and information is disturbing regardless of whether Facebook users have the foresight about the privacy they're giving up by signing up. While in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be surprising to the average person that Facebook collects our data, it should still be surprising and offensive that it's being misused and sold to "bad people". What Facebook has done with the data is inexcusable and shows that they are not capable of self-regulation. Not the fact that they collect data, because ethically collected and anonymous data is a hugely important tool for marketing companies and also for making tech services a personalized experience for each user. There is an incredible amount of good and power behind collecting and analyzing data, and with the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, both of which depend on data collection, it is clear that this is the direction in which the future of the tech industry is heading. Data collection is the backbone of all modern technology. Sadly, I think we placed too much power in the hands of corporations like Facebook in that there aren't any regulations regarding commodifying user specific data. Again, there aren't any regulations because the government's mindset and technology is 10 years behind the tech industry's. This is just a wake up call that they need to start regulating as soon as possible, in such a way that it doesn’t limit the growth of technology but it does protect the rights of users.

So people shouldn't be scared of technology and data collection, but we should be able to demand transparency and ethical use of that data by Facebook and similar tech companies. By liking, sharing, and posting, we are giving them more and more data and thus more and more profit, and we should be able to demand that it be used in a way that benefits us, not some data analyzing firm that seeks to undermine our democratic process.

In summary, the fact that these servers and profiles exist isn't surprising. It's dangerous how we commodify the information, I agree. But the simple fact that data bases exist shouldn't be cause for alarm. My hope is that people will become increasingly aware and tech literate, and that Facebook and the entire tech industry learns to be or is forced to be more transparent and ethical in its use of data.

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