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Facebook privacy misunderstandings.

I’ve been listening to the news on and off today and there seems to be some misdirection, intentionally or unintentionally, about why Facebook’s lax privacy policy is so important.

It’s not because any personal financial data has been exposed, unless you *like* to put that stuff in your profile. This is never explicitly stated but without the proper context, a typical Facebook grandma and her family may draw the wrong conclusion. It’s not identity theft.

No, what is at risk is your privacy from undue influence. The reason why your information is valuable to Cambridge Analytica, its spin offs and whoever else it sold that data to (and I’m fairly confident they’ve got clients who will pay a LOT of money for their secret sauce dataset) is because every record in that dataset is a target for which an individualized and unique message can be crafted to push the Facebook user to behave in a certain way. And Cambridge Analytica has been phenomenally effective at doing this. Intuitive con men, marketers and ad agencies have been doing this stuff for years but never with so much psychological data, insight or precision. Here’s Hillary Clinton’s clip from Channel 4’s Cambridge Analytica’s expose where she sums it up:

In other words, from the Facebook personality test and other information from your profile, Cambridge Analytica had a pretty good idea of what made you afraid, what made you uneasy, what made you angry. And they created ads specifically designed to elicit those emotional responses from you, lead you to their other sites where you would receive messages and conditioning that would persuade you very effectively to stop being politically correct, to think liberals were going to take away your guns and that Hillary Clinton was mishandling classified information. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure they got inside the inner corners of people’s heads and turned off their warning systems that would alert them to how dangerous and deceptive Donald Trump was.

As a canvasser, I was surprised at how many undecided middle aged women there were who were waiting for Hillary Clinton to be arrested over her email server. Those voters would have been her natural constituents in 2008. It was spooky. But elderly 70-90 year old guys on the same street would be some of her most enthusiastic supporters. It’s hard now to not see how Facebook’s open door policy and ad business model didn’t have an effect.

So people should not be panicking over whether their identities are about to be stolen. That’s not the part that’s scary. The part that’s worrisome is each Facebook user can be mobilized to carry out the desires of some unknown entity without realizing it’s happening.

The first thing we need to do is identify the right problem before we can even think about proposing a solution. Otherwise, hanging Mark Zuckerberg by his junk will give us only fleeting satisfaction.

16 Responses

  1. Facebook delenda est.

    • If Niles is serious, this may be the first time I have ever agreed with him, on any statement with more room for argument than “2 + 2 = 4”.

  2. Facebook is quintessentially an insider/outsider application which I would consider as being bad for an open and civil society. There is nothing enchanting about this walled garden. The fact they got into politics/elections to muck around democracy is the worst of it. Zuckerberg should never have gone there and certainly not by monetizing and weaponizing information fucking with people’s mind.

    • I don’t use Fartbook. I never have used it. I can’t imagine that I ever will use it.

      So, it’s hard for me to judge whether or not it’s inherently harmful.

  3. ICYMI; I feel like I read this article a long time ago but it only dates back to Jan.


    The most important tool used by Facebook and Google to hold user attention is filter bubbles. The use of algorithms to give consumers “what they want” leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed, while on Google it’s your individually customized search results. The result is that everyone sees a different version of the internet tailored to create the illusion that everyone else agrees with them. Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts. Facebook takes the concept one step further with its “groups” feature, which encourages like-minded users to congregate around shared interests or beliefs. While this ostensibly provides a benefit to users, the larger benefit goes to advertisers, who can target audiences even more effectively.

    However, the advertisers on FB were not selling shoes to user groups with shared interests, but they were selling political ads, mostly anti-Clinton ads based on fake stories.

    • The expose about CA showed how bad actors will use these data.

      Sixth, we need a limit on the commercial exploitation of consumer data by internet platforms. Customers understand that their “free” use of platforms like Facebook and Google gives the platforms license to exploit personal data. The problem is that platforms are using that data in ways consumers do not understand, and might not accept if they did. For example, Google bought a huge trove of credit card data earlier this year. Facebook uses image-recognition software and third-party tags to identify users in contexts without their involvement and where they might prefer to be anonymous. Not only do the platforms use your data on their own sites, but they also lease it to third parties to use all over the internet. And they will use that data forever, unless someone tells them to stop.

    • Woohoo, Roger McNamee is on the Last Word…

  4. No, what is at risk is your privacy from undue influence.

    Some things are sacred in a democracy like truth, reality, and rational choice all of which became causalities at the hands of a con artist/fraudulent candidate, the MEDIA, Russian interference, Cam. Analytica, Facebook, Google, Youtube, Instagram, and even Tumblr(!)

  5. Sakura (foreground) and Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura, which I must get around to watching someday.

    Also, cr@wd@d repellent. 😉

  6. I wonder what Ted Kaczynski thinks of Facebook. Marketing techniques have been honed to a fine point since he wrote his manifesto. There is NO DOUBT that his methods were incorrect… but he definitely saw something like Facebook coming.

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