I have to confess to being somewhat surprised by the revelations of this last week surrounding Facebook. Not so much that there have been allegations of Facebook’s data being used to sway an election, but more that people are actually shocked by it themselves.
If you haven’t kept up with the news, a recent expose by Channel 4 suggested that UK data firm Cambridge Analytica used an app to gather people’s data from Facebook and then used that data to sway their opinions in the US election. The firm has received a lot of negative press over the allegations, and Facebook has also been hauled over the coals (metaphorically at least). Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by MPs to appear in parliament and explain what has happened.
I’m sure he’s really bothered by that one.
Now, what surprises me is that anyone is actually surprised by this. I mean, people on Facebook readily give over their data to this faceless (pun intended) US social networking business. They tell Facebook how old they are, who their family members are, who their friends are, what music they’re into, what books they read, what films they like, what events they attend, who they vote for and pretty much anything else that comes to mind.
Everything they do, and I mean EVERYTHING, is told to Facebook voluntarily. You wouldn’t give this information over to a telemarketer, or to someone trying to sell you a car. You wouldn’t write it down and post it outside your house. You wouldn’t even stick it in a dating profile on a website. Yet we tell Facebook, without hesitation.
Sure, every now and then there will be a trend of checking your privacy settings to make sure people who are not your ‘friends’ can’t see what you post, and some people will spread some rubbish about Facebook charging for its use, or some nonsense about you not owning your own photos unless you post a legal disclaimer in your status.
You know, hoax posts that are spread by idiots?
By and large, however, we tell Facebook everything about us. We feed the beast with every piece of information it could possibly want, and Facebook gives that information to advertisers to target us with adverts for their products, services or whatever else they may be selling.
Facebook has two billion members, and they are the commodity. THEY are the product. They are what Facebook sells to make money.
That’s you. YOU are the product.
If you tell Facebook everything about you, can you really be surprised that the information is used to sell to you, or to sway your opinion? Really?
Just what is this story all about? What are people getting so upset about? Whether or not the allegations of the story are true doesn’t really matter. Facebook has used, and will continue to use, your data to sell to you. Your data, and what you tell Facebook, will be made available for advertisers to target you with adverts. It’s how Facebook works. It’s how you have allowed it to work.
Are you genuinely surprised to see adverts for the latest Tomb Raider film when you’ve told Facebook you like Tomb Raider, and you like Tomb Raider-related Facebook pages? Are you really dumbstruck as to how Facebook knew you were interested in that mountain bike from Halfords you looked at on their website three days ago?
If you give over every piece of information about yourself to the biggest marketer of data in the history of the world, don’t cry foul when that data is used. It’s already happening, and has been for many years.