Security from the ground up
The most recent spar between Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is very telling. Tim Cook defends the right to privacy of the users, and points out that Apple does not sell user data including metadata and data on relationships between users. I laud him for that. Hats off, and kudos. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, seems confused with the business model behind his own company.
Facebook’s motto is to bring the world closer together. Its business model is predicated on exploiting metadata of its users and selling that data (exploiting the “likes” is a feature and not a bug behind Facebook). The same is true for all relationship data. Advertisers are only interested in opinion leaders, and not in followers. Of course, advertisers will buy or harvest data that shows who is a hub in a business or personal relationship, and not that of the spokes. No advertiser wants to buy non-influencers’ contacts – they are only interested in influencers. Harvesting that data and allowing third parties to harvest that data is Facebook’s business model. That is how they make money. Hence, Cambridge Analytica (and many others) did not do anything illegal or against Facebook’s “Terms and Conditions”—they simply harvested it with deceiving terms and conditions for their “app”. Facebook is not only not without fault here; Facebook enabled the harvesting, and in fact, was the one company creating data mining market. I have never been a fan of Facebook, and I thought it was borderline illegal to tag me on pictures that Facebook members took and posted even though I chose to not be a member (and as such did not give Facebook permission to identify me on any photo in any context).
I do not see that Facebook’s actions and Mark Zuckerberg’s statements ever correlated. “Connecting people” or “bringing the world closer together” is fundamentally different from the polarizing effect of the news content that Facebook selects for its users: Facebook only shows those news—fake or not—that reinforce a member’s view of the world. This creates a feedback loop, an echo chamber where only the member’s own opinions get reinforced and amplified. In the real world, everyone is exposed to opposing opinions, and they have to deal with them. In Facebook, users are being polarized into liberal or conservative camps without noticing it. Thus, Facebook reinforces its users’ perceptions on both sides of the political spectrum, and as such, creates a rift in the society. This undermines the basic principles and inner workings of society and our democracy. That’s not connecting people, but the worst case of demagoguery and propaganda.