Back in 2003, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was more interested in rating female Harvard students online than starting a social phenomena. But it didn’t take long for those funding Facebook to realize its potential.
Let’s be straight here, everyone knows nothing is free. Facebook provides you access to their social networking platform in exchange for your personal information. You agreed to this. Do you remember clicking “I agree” to their Terms and Conditions (T&Cs)? Probably not. Did you read the T&Cs? I would bet you didn’t. It’s 87,000 words. The length of an average novel. If you had read it, I doubt you would have ever clicked on “I agree.”
Facebook hasn’t lied to you, they haven’t kept anything hidden from you. In fact they have been totally honest with you. The fact that you failed to read the T&Cs isn’t their fault. This is part of the T&C: “Apps, websites and third-party integrations on or using our Services. When you use third-party apps, websites or other services that use, or are integrated with, our Services, they may receive information about what you post or share.”
Facebook’s revenue stream is dependent on selling your personal information – how old you are, where you live, your interests, where you like to travel, how you spend your money, and even your political beliefs. Your profile is full of valuable data. If you list that you enjoy tennis, don’t be surprised to find ads popping up from tennis equipment suppliers.
Those lame surveys that you like to fill out. You know the ones – to rate how smart you are, your knowledge of 80s music, etc. They claim no one ever gets 100% (but everyone does). They are designed to extract even more data about you. Let’s just say you indicate on one of those surveys you like to donate money to certain charities. Guess what happens next. You get targeted by those types of charities. You indicate you prefer curling up with a good book over going to a bar and you’ll be targeted by book retailers.
It’s not just the surveys and apps. Every post you make has information about you that someone out there is potentially interested in. You check in at the Rogers Centre for a Blue Jays game and post a couple of selfies. Rogers even provides you with free wifi at the game to encourage you to post on your timeline. Then they purchase all the data from people at the game. All with your consent and cooperation.
So let me get to Cambridge Analytica. They used a particular quiz app to gather the data that they wanted. Cambridge Analytica’s quiz asked people lots of questions about their beliefs and values – but heavily disguised as a fun quiz. The data that they gathered was influential in the way the Trump Presidential team got its campaign message across to the American electorate – or, at least, certain sections of the American electorate. Voters got bombarded with fake news and other biased information to try to influence they way they voted. That’s right, Facebook facilitated undermining democratic elections around the world.
The point of this post, is not to get you to delete your Facebook account, although some people are deciding to do so. But be aware how Facebook works and how to minimize the personal information you hand over to them. Maybe you don’t want to let Facebook know when you were borned or your location. The less you provide, the better you protect yourself. Because Facebook will survive this scandal and continue to make money off your personal information. That’s the business they’ve been in for nearly 15 years.