You’d think there would be enough in the news these days that really is shocking without seeing the stock market roiled by a giant wave of pretend shock over the “news” that details about users of social media platforms such as Facebook are mined and sold to companies that hope to persuade said users to do, buy or like certain things (for those who truly did just arrive here from the planet Antares, that’s known as “advertising.”) To use a reference from long before the birth of social media, all these shocked reporters and politicians are like the Police Chief in “Casablanca” who was shocked to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s Café, as the waiter brought him his winnings.
All social media platforms require huge amounts of money to get off the ground. They need highly-skilled staffs, computer equipment, massive amounts of bandwidth and many more things that all cost beaucoup bucks. They let you join for “free,” and even when their direct advertising income stream is barely a trickle, they go public on the stock market are suddenly valued higher than Reynolds Aluminum. Why? What is their product?
It’s your personal information, which you give them willingly when you sign up and every time you post about a restaurant you visited or something you bought or a trip you took, or when you click on an ad for something that interests you or “like” or follow a particular page. Everyone on Wall Street knows this is their business model. Now, there are precautions you can take: privacy settings you can click or do-not-track software you can add to your computer. You can simply avoid posting or clicking on things that are too personal. Or you can simply not join. But if you do join, it should be with the understanding that when you share information about yourself online, it’s no longer just between you and God. It’s now between you and the world and Mark Zuckerberg or whoever owns that particular site, and any advertisers they might sell it to.
The current fake shock over the discovery that personal information was sold is because one company, Cambridge Analytica, allegedly extracted data improperly, by hosting a "personality test" that didn't disclose in its Terms Of Service agreement that your information wouldn’t be kept secret or sold. But think about it: even if they had included a line in their TOS Agreement, how many people actually read those reams of legal boilerplate that are longer than “War And Peace” before just clicking on “Agree”? For all most of us know, when we signed up for iTunes, we agreed to give Apple our first-born child.
The real cause of all the pretend shock is the same thing that’s made “fake news” the biggest cliché of the 21st century: Donald Trump became President. One of Cambridge Analytica’s clients was the Trump Presidential campaign. They used the data to help reach potential Trump voters. So now, we have to pretend to be “OUTRAGED!”™ again.
Never mind that the Obama campaign organizers of 2008 and 2012 were hailed as forward-thinking geniuses for mining social media for info on potential young Democratic voters and using it to target, contact and drive them to the polls. I’m sure Facebook would love for you to ignore its own employees who’ve admitted that the Democrats didn’t have to buy your personal data from a second party because they were on Obama’s side and just gave it to them. How many other big tech companies run by mega-bucks Democratic donors did the same? Do Democrats really want to pull at that thread?
Oh, but of course, this is totally different because Cambridge Analytica “improperly” took the data without permission. Unlike other data gatherers, they didn’t bury a line about that in the TOS Agreements nobody reads.
Don’t get me wrong, the loss of privacy in the digital world is a serious problem that needs addressing (and one too many young people don’t even seem to understand is a problem). Maybe we need stricter laws to police TOS agreements and to limit data mining (although good luck enforcing them, as long as people continue to post personal information for all the world to see). This is especially urgent with people now putting devices into their homes that are equipped with microphones and cameras (who needs the KGB when we have digital assistants?) But to pretend that unauthorized data mining is some new, unexpected twist unique to Cambridge Analytica is as absurd as the Police Chief pocketing his winnings while expressing shock that he’s standing in a casino.
At the link below, a former IT official for Obama’s 2012 campaign shows off an article all about how effectively they mined your data to help reelect Obama. And what a surprise! She posted it on her Twitter page.
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