While I think it’s safe to admit that Facebook has played fast and loose with the privacy of its users, and that it’s perfectly fine with manipulating its users when needed, Facebook is not alone in what it’s doing. If anything, I think we could easily make the argument that just about every company out there would give anything for access to Facebook's data on us. This data is what gets presidents elected, after all.
As The Guardian noted, "Facebook’s ability to create granular profiles of its users has been at the very core of its business model, transforming the social media platform into one of the most profitable companies on the planet." Who wouldn't want to be that company?
Uber wants to know you so it can manipulate you into paying more for your taxi rides. EA wants to know you so it can manipulate you into paying more for its games. Google wants to know you so it can manipulate you into clicking on its ads. Amazon wants to know you so it can manipulate you into buying more products. The list is endless.
Just about every app you use on your phone is harvesting data on you. If you’re using a maps app, the developer knows where you live and your daily routine. If you’re ordering food, the developer knows where you live and work. Fitness trackers monitor your movements (and reveal the location of secret military bases), heart-rate monitors monitor your health, I could go on forever. Oh, and need I even mention Aadhaar?
What do you think this AI and machine learning boom is thriving on? Data. Everyone who is anyone wants to build AI, and the only way to do that is with more data. The more data you have, the more the computing power at your disposal, the better your AI and the better the product that you can sell. The only difference between the likes of Facebook and a lesser company is that Facebook is better at harvesting and selling your data.
I’m not saying that there aren’t any “good” companies out there that respect our privacy. Some companies have built their reputation around that ideal, but the fact remains that to most of the companies out there, humanity is a vast crop of data simply waiting to be harvested, processed and sold.
What do you think is going to happen when we start filling up our houses with smart home devices? Alexa and Google Assistant are already listening to everything we say, what our children say.
Let alone my own face, facial recognition is so good that it can recognise my cat with just as much accuracy.
We must face the fact that the more we embrace technology, the more the data we’re sharing, and consequently, the less the privacy we have.
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are companies that simply got caught misusing our data. Are the likes of Google, Twitter and Uber making any pledges about purging user data or reworking their privacy policies? Of course not. They’ve gone quiet as they wait for the ruckus to die down. They’re probably just hoping they’re not the next ones to be caught with their pants down.
The only thing we can do, what we should do, is fight for our right to privacy. Demand a law that protects this right, a law that holds entities accountable for the data they collect and processed.
Deleting our Facebook accounts can be a mark of protest, but it needs to move beyond just that.