Hey, don’t get me wrong, I have been terribly troubled by Facebook’s ‘surveillance economy’ model: the way it tracks and analyses its users’ social graph and extrapolates a map of their ‘interests’ and demographic information before delivering them (the users) and their privacy up like lambs to the slaughter on the altar of commerce and, it turns out, to political campaigns.
The flaw with Facebook is in its DNA, or perhaps better put, in the at-base dishonesty and untrustworthiness of its founder, the deceitful Mark Zuckerberg. For instance, I have always taken this exchange at face value, reproduced in 2010 by Business Insider:
According to SAI sources, the following exchange is between a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and a friend shortly after Mark launched The Facebook in his dorm room:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.
Leave aside the clear evidence of Zuckerberg’s duplicity dealing with the Winklevoss twins and the outcome:
They are known for co-founding HarvardConnection (later renamed ConnectU) along with Harvard University classmate Divya Narendra. In 2004, the Winklevoss brothers sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their ConnectU idea to create the popular social networking site, and ultimately received $65 million.
The many and varied intrusions Facebook makes into its users’ privacy over the years, the overreach the site routinely makes, and the exploitative, cynical attitude Facebook seems to operate with – these have put me off using the service for personal interactions except superficially.But that said, there are some criticisms of it which just seem too much. Like this one, which I’ve just read, ‘Facebook backer likens ‘addictive’ social media to Nazi propaganda‘:
An early investor in Facebook has compared the social network’s methods to those of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations” who promoted smoking for women.
Roger McNamee, who made a fortune from early backing of the social network, suggested Facebook and other technology giants like Google have substituted in “phoney relationships for real relationships” and were not being held accountable.
He said: “In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it on to an all-day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you. We are all to one degree or another addicted.”
Golly, that seems a bit Over The Top.
It’s a bit like those criticisms of computer gaming which accuse the game designers of using tricks from gambling casinos to extend their players’ sessions, to make the game experience more ‘sticky’. In the end, whose choice is it to interact, and continue to interact?
We know that (just like Casinos) all sorts of manipulations and behavioural ‘science’ goes into maximising attention and ‘interaction’ – time with the service/game/platform.
Software is engineered to addict people with dopamine-inducing fake wins like, you know, ‘likes’ and follower counts and mentions. These mechanisms are designed to make a user pay with their time and attention (internet currency). That’s the game.
A big audience is worth more to the advertisers and the rapacious commercial machine built to exploit users – a borg-like machine for which Mark Zuckerberg is the perfect stooge. To me, the aggressive, hyper-competitive billionaire just seems so gosh darn insincere when he starts talking about social goals and community standards.
But he’s not the devil.
Update: Kashmir Hill wrote a brilliant article about the creepy ‘hidden file’ Facebook creates about each user – from info about them offered up by other users: How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met (h/t John Gruber)
Behind the Facebook profile you’ve built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you’ve never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections.
Shadow contact information has been a known feature of Facebook for a few years now. But most users remain unaware of its reach and power. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook’s algorithmic black box, people can’t see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up.
It’s like that line, Google doesn’t need me to use gmail to get copies of my email, because so many of the people I correspond with use it.
So we see the sneaky, creeping hunger to aggregate information about ‘dumb fuck’ users which the Zuckerberg machine displayed from the beginning is still alive and well.
Like many others, I’ve been creeped out at what Facebook presumes about ‘People you might know’. As a journalist it can be unnerving to see one’s sources (some published, some not) pop up in the ‘friend suggestions’ stream on Facebook, when I deliberately DON’T EVER upload my contacts to Facebook. See?: