Will Facebook ever be trustworthy?


writer icon - -     Facebook   |   Tech Ethics     🕐 23. Mar. 2018

News broke this weekend that the data firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

Cambridge Analytica did not hack or steal any information. Facebook have even themselves clarified that this was not a data breach. The simple truth is that Cambridge Analytica got the information from Facebook itself, as it was within Facbook’s policies to share the data.

”This is what Cambridge Analytica did. They showed that by properly segmenting people and using that for targeting as well as for customising messaging, you can effectively perform the con artist trick of reading people in order to influence them at an industrial scale.” says digitalisation expert Johan Öbrink.

Johan Öbrink explained in an interview with us that the issue is not necessarily that it was within Facebook’s policies to share the data, but the fact that this information could so easily be misused. ”… the real story here is not that information can be leaked – it’s that the data Facebook controls can be weaponised.”

How Facebook truly works
Facebook’s business model has been to sell data and information about their users on to advertisement companies. Every post you like, every page you follow, every friend you add, and much more, are gathered by Facebook. This enables them to paint a full picture of who you are, and then sell that information to advertisers, resulting in Facebook making 39 Billion USD in 2017. 98% of Facebook’s revenue is from advertisement, from small businesses and big corporations who want to micro target their customers.

I’m really sorry
"I'm really sorry that this happened" said CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg to CNN on Wednesday.

A well-trained Zuckerberg broke the silence. Saying “I’m really sorry”, but is this truly good enough? He made no attempt to deny that this could happen again. Rather, he explained that Facebook would take steps to make it harder.

“The measures that Facebook are putting in place might be effective in restricting the ways different actors can use to exploit this weapon. But the fact is that this is still the core proposition of Facebook's ad tools: That by targeting people through the information they have shared with Facebook, you can influence their behaviour more efficiently. In short – the proposed measures are making sure that the next Cambridge Analytica properly pays Facebook for the data they utilise. They do not prevent this from happening again.” says Öbrink.

Ethical complication
Building a platform like Facebook and taking in the whole world as its users, seems to have been a joyful, consequence-free ride for Zuckerberg.

’With power comes responsibility’, a well-known saying, but Zuckerberg’s power, came without any. Facebook’s choice to have a business model where they sell information about their users, to anyone who would be willing to pay, is not something that has happened overnight.

"I'm really sorry.." is something you would expect to hear from a politician who has messed up. In Zuckerberg’s case it seems a quite rehearsed and somewhat careless response, from a man who with full intent chose to have a business plan whereby 98% of Facebook's revenue would come from the selling of information about their users.

The solution to this problem does not seem to end at Zuckerberg’s apologetic statement. This revelation has placed Facebook and Zuckerberg under investigation. And The American Congress are now looking to inspect this further.

“We need to realise that the cat is out of the bag and cannot be put back.” Öbrink states strongly, and goes on to explain:

“The analysis has been done, the models are created and validated, the techniques are well described and understood. The only possible counter measure, given the current business model, is increased understanding of these techniques. And here is where Facebook can actually make a difference. By increasing the transparency of how individuals’ data is being used and how and why they are targeted, they can help in this much needed educational effort.”.

”The other possibility, of course, is reclaiming our data. The services that Facebook provide can be reconstructed with individual ownership of personal data. This, however, is not compatible with Facebook's business model -so that is nothing I expect to hear proposed by Mr Zuckerberg.”

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