Facebook seems to be finished. Fake news, echo chambers, unchecked agitation and demonstrable attacks on democracy have tainted the network once described as social and upset many of its approximate two billion users. The handling of our user data was questionable right from the start. But the recent scandals about political manipulation with Cambridge Analytica and the recording of our call and messaging logs has gotten out of hand. For the first time, people are seriously moving on from the network. In this article we’ll explain to you why they’re right about this, and what this could entail.
It’s sad that it came to this. Completely unregulated, data giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook were able to expand and collect more and more intimate details about people all over the world. These details were analyzed and exploited in various ways. If personalized advertising was the extent of it, probably nobody would’ve really gotten upset.
But echo chambers in which people are confronted with one-sided reporting and data analyses that specifically supply these chambers with fake news and manipulate masses of people have revealed a new kind of big data conspiracy. It had been clear for a while that we would have to pay for these “free” web services somehow if they weren’t asking for our money upfront. But few could have guessed that it would cost us our freedom.
As early as 2011, Avaaz and Upworthy founder Eli Pariser warned of the filter bubbles in his TED talk and predicted that they would distort our view of the world. This year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal proved him to be correct.
What is the Cambridge Analytica scandal?
The extremely brief summary of the scandal is that a British professor named Aleksandr Kogan collected the data of 57 million Facebook users via an inconspicuous survey. He passed these on to Cambridge Analytica, which used them to influence those users in the 2016 US presidential elections in favor of Donald Trump. Investigations into this story are still underway, but any further findings from it will surely be a nightmare.
Facebook’s handling of the crisis hasn’t been any better. Jean-Louis Gassée, entrepreneur and former Apple employee, is convinced that Zuckerberg considers us ‘idiots’. After Steve Jobs said, “You’re holding the iPhone wrong,” and Sun CEO Scott McNealy said, “Get over it, you have no privacy,” Zuckerberg’s ambiguous “Your privacy is important to us,” is the boldest statement we’ve heard in a long time. Gassée says:
“Yes, of course, our privacy is important to you; you made billions by surveilling and mining our private lives. One wonders how aware Zuckerberg is of the double entendre.”
He also criticizes Zuckerberg’s claim to have acted quickly against Cambridge Analytica’s abuse. Because…
- Facebook has always shared too much user data with third parties.
- Facebook was warned in 2011 against misusing app permissions.
- Declarations of consent for the use of Facebook apps are, without exception, too complicated for the average user.
- Facebook had obviously been aware of the abuse for a long time and had done nothing.
Of course Facebook didn’t do anything. In the end, political campaigns are diligently financed and Facebook has been able to secure large parts of the generous campaign budget in the form of sponsored posts. So the question is: how many Cambridge Analytica type scandals have we not discovered yet?
Facebook, chat logs, and permissions
A small proportion of users will be surprised to discover when extracting their Facebook data that chat logs have also been recorded, i.e. the meta-information about who you talked to for how long. While this only happened on Android devices with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and was fixed by restructuring the rights management with API level 16, this feature clearly shows how Facebook ticks.
Facebook also handled our movement and location data in a really lax manner. Until it was specifically told to do otherwise, Facebook would reveal your location to your chat partners. In the future you will have to enable this feature.
The mood has long since changed
Not only users, politicians and regulators are losing faith in Facebook. As the FTC launches a non-public investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices, investors are beginning to lose faith in the company. In the meantime, the share price fell to a one-year low after having risen almost continuously over the past five years.
In other social media channels, but also in some news media headlines, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook appears again and again, and has even become a catchphrase on Twitter. Elon Musk deleted the Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX. Edward Snowden spoke out and declared it our moral duty to oppose data monopolists like Facebook if we want to keep our freedom.
The next steps
Since we don’t expect Facebook to undergo any kind of moral change under Mark Zuckerberg and suddenly become good, we as users are forced to act. The requirement to use your real name will disappear, that much has been decided in court. Anonymous use will become easier. We can also stop giving Facebook so much of ourselves: we don’t need to optimize face recognition by tagging every photo, inform Facebook about every step we take, or rate every event.
It doesn’t all have to happen on Facebook. It wasn’t like that before Facebook either. The network was decentralized, a place for many. Its inventor Tim Bernes-Lee has chosen more dramatic words and says that Facebook and Google are turning the web into a weapon.
Facebook offered us convenience because everything is in one place or in one app. But now it has finally become apparent that we have paid for this with a complete digital image of our personality on the net. We are also paying to be informed and are potentially used more and more unilaterally. The only appropriate answer is a clear no.
Exiting Facebook or even Google is complicated. Our dependence on their services has become enormous. It is only inconvenient for individual users. For companies, even for AndroidPIT, it would be associated with a direct financial loss; after all, we are acquiring a considerable proportion of our readership via online services.
Leaving must therefore be wisely planned and patiently implemented. Our separate article goes into this in greater detail and outlines the Facebook deletion/deactivation process step-by-step.
What do you think? If you already have your finger on the “Delete Facebook account” button or if you’re keeping your account for a good reason, please feel free to leave a comment below!