This question and its response reveal a conceptual disconnect from the old to the new. Senator Orrin Hasch innocently asks: If you provide a service, can you do it for free? Facebook’s business isn’t just to provide you with services. It also makes money by selling your data.
You can sell your life.
Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and author, was one of the first to notice this in 2011. Facebook is a product and not a customer.
Facebook’s clients are advertisers, and the platform it offers is built to help advertisers find their customers. It’s not just the data that you enter on Facebook. This includes data that you “tread” on Facebook. You can also see the purchases and searches you have made.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, appeared before the US Congress to explain the scandal surrounding data sharing.
In a way, Cambridge Analytica only did that. Facebook was used to deliver content that targeted specific users in the exact way it was intended. The bag didn’t have many pockets, but it was selling Trump and Brexit. It was Trump and Brexit.
We are only beginning to question this model’s ethical ambiguity now that we have shifted our focus from purchasing decisions to the manipulation of culture. Model where you are the product and your data is.
The next step is regulation.
It’s no wonder Zuckerberg appeared like a deer in headlights before Congress, even if his questioning was inept and toothless. This is just the beginning. This process could lead to a transformational, stringent regulation or at least a battle between Facebook and the government over this regulation.
There’s a big problem here. Not just Facebook. Your data is sold by any free service you use, including Google Docs, Gmail and Search, all social media sites (Snapchat or Twitter), WhatsApp, WhatsApp and Hotmail. What will happen when we pull this thread and older adults like Senator Orrin Hatch begin to realize how deeply embedded Data Harvesting, Retargeting, Cookie Sharing, and other ethically ambiguous digital marketing practices are?
There will be a discussion about regulation. Who will be held responsible? Which nation-state will be considered the place where crimes were committed? Will these companies respect or accept the regulation once it is formed?
The most powerful companies on Earth are the ones we’re talking about. Alphabet is in the top 10 by market value.
Breaking up with Facebook can be more difficult than you think. Shutterstock
It is worth noting that, although Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress, Cambridge Analytica’s headquarters are located in the UK. He considers himself above UK law and institutions, so much so that he has refused to testify before a UK Parliamentary Select Committee three times. Even though regulation will always be discussed, little is likely actually to happen.
Facebook could tighten its privacy controls or improve the user interface. Google will be relieved that it was not them, and you will continue to download these apps. Apps that use your location and Facebook profile to match you with events in your area.