Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 7:23 AM

Hey Stupid… Cambridge Analytica Used Facebook Users as Facebook Intended…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

And that’s the scandal.

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign gained improper access to data on 50 million Facebook users. …

‘The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices, and the picture is not pretty,’ said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley’s use of data.

(Reuters, March 18, 2018)

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy at issue, are in the crosshairs. But these “shocked, shocked” politicians are just scapegoating them for data practices that define all social media. What’s more, some of us have been decrying these practices for years.

Unfortunately, with social media stoking faux outrages and cheap thrills a minute, most people now have the attention span of murmuring gnats and the short-term memory of mating baboons. After all, “the lid … opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices” just four years ago. Yet even the mainstream media are hyping this old story as a new “bombshell report.”

I commented on the faux outrage back then in “Facebook Friends?! Try Facebook Guinea Pigs,” July 8, 2014. The following excerpt explains the profit motive behind Facebook turning a blind eye to Cambridge’s “improper access.” It also explains why Zuckerberg is banking on another viral scandal diffusing this one without causing his social network too much financial and reputational damage.

____________________

People are up in arms about the recent revelation that Facebook manipulated its users during a psychological study. …

User Interface designers and researchers at places like Google, Facebook or Yahoo! regularly tweak the live site’s interface for a subset of visitors to see whether users behave differently in response. While this technique shines new light on user behavior, the overall goal is to bring the company more revenue through more users, clicks or glances at ads.

(TIME, July 2, 2014)

Frankly, if you are among the millions of Facebook users who feel betrayed by this revelation, all I can say is, I told you so … repeatedly, including most recently in “Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!” March 15, 2014:

You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage. After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe.

By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff, to say nothing of peddling their personal data to third parties for indeterminate uses. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. And, trust me, ISPs (like Verizon and Comcast) are the worst harvesters and peddlers of your personal data.

Of course, Obama took immediate steps to allay public concerns about NSA spying. Therefore, it speaks volumes about Facebook’s sense of entitlement that COO Sheryl Sandberg is insisting that public concerns about this psychological study stem from nothing more than a failure to communicate:

This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.

(Huffington Post, July 2, 2014)

In other words, get over yourselves, Facebook users!

Truth be told, I don’t blame Facebook for treating its users like mindless guinea pigs.

After all, why take seriously the concerns of people who blithely share all manner of personal information about themselves on social networks but become indignant at the NSA for mining that information – not for profit or experimentation, mind you, but to keep them safe.

Nothing is more telling in this respect than a Business Insider report on May 13, 2010, which quotes Zuckerberg demeaning his users as follows:

They trust me, dumb f*cks.

To be fair, Facebook’s sense of entitlement is probably based on the fact that it provides users all of its selfie-promoting, self-flattering, and self-deluding services free of charge.

If my informed cynicism does not resonate with you, just ask yourself why it is that every time you hear about private information being hacked and exposed, it always involves an account held with private companies like Target or social networks like Twitter.  Whereas nobody had ever heard of NSA accounts being hacked and exposed … until Edward Snowden perpetrated his now notorious betrayal.

At any rate, this revelation only reinforces my contention that Snowden would’ve provided a far more useful public service if his leaks had focused more on the spying social networks are doing for profit and less on that which the NSA is doing for security. But I trust it will finally reveal for all to see that, when it comes to the invasion of privacy rights, we have far more to fear from Facebook than the NSA.

____________________

Remarkably, no less a person than Brad Parscale, digital director for Trump’s campaign, is on record making a mockery of this faux outrage. Because he took great pride in broadcasting how he exploited the access Facebook granted Cambridge (and other data mining companies) to its users … for a fee.

Here is how Parscale summed up his strategy – during an interview on 60 Minutes no less – to harvest users’ personal information in a Matrix-like scheme to electronically brainwash them to “Like” Trump:

I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win. Twitter is how he talked to the people. Facebook was going to be how he won.

(October 8, 2017)

And that was all she wrote!

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has amassed an obscene amount of wealth from peddling the personal information of Facebook’s nearly 2 billion users. Nothing reflects this quite like hysterical reaction to this scandal causing a $5 billion loss, yet leaving his net worth at close to $70 billion. But the valuation of social media companies is so fickle that, with confidence-building PR moves, he could regain that loss (and earn billions more) in a single day next week.

Both Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been conspicuously disconnected in the midst of this latest viral storm. But I expect both to come out of hiding any day now to begin making those PR moves – complete with congressional testimony framing Cambridge Analytica as just one bad apple.

Related commentaries:
Facebook guinea pigs
confessions of facebook programmers
facebook like infectious disease

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