The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

To Facebook, the Product Is You!

Apr 16, 2018

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in the wake of the news that Cambridge Analytica had collected and used the personal information of up to 87 million of Facebook users. Early in the hearing, Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” The question was so basic, Zuckerberg answered it in just four words, “Senator, we run ads.”

Zuckerberg’s subsequent testimony made it clear that Cambridge Analytica is hardly alone in collecting such information. Facebook exists for the express purpose of selling users’ personal information to advertisers so they can more effectively target their ads to consumers. As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff once put it, “We are not Facebook’s customers, we’re its product.”

Facebook has convinced many people it is the only way to communicate. What many don’t understand is that in the process, Facebook and its advertisers are gathering every bit of information on everything clicked on; not just what products a person might be curious about, but what they’re interested in politically and socially. Marketers have the ability to collect users’ relationship status, employer, job title and education.

A New York Times writer, Brian Chen, investigated what Facebook had on him and found it had his entire phone book from his iPhone because he had uploaded it when using Facebook’s messaging app. The company not only had his “Friends” list, but a list of “Removed Friends” he had “unfriended.” They don’t intend to make it easy for people to truly delete their information, at least not without paying for the service.

It’s not just Facebook, either, of course. Chen also looked into Google and found it had collected more than 10 times as much data on him as Facebook, including articles he’d read and apps he had opened on his Android.

Add in the photos that someone can gather from platforms like Facebook and it hardly seems difficult for someone to assume someone else’s identity.

If anyone expects Congress to do something to stop this invasion of privacy, don’t hold your breath! Facebook’s stockholders certainly don’t. The price of Facebook stock shares rose 5.3 per cent by the day after Zuckerberg’s testimony. Zuckerberg’s own stock rose in value by three billion dollars.

The senators who questioned Zuckerberg appeared pretty clueless about how Facebook operated. If they really had any intention of regulating companies like Facebook, they might have brought someone in as competent as Zuckerberg to testify about the problems.

This should come as no surprise since the politicians serve in the interests of the wealthy like Zuckerberg and corporations like Facebook and Google.