The Facebook User Data Debacle

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I watched the highlights from Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing on Capitol Hill to address the perceived impact of his company’s data on the 2016 election.  Fun to watch those on the Hill and their far inadequate understanding of how various technologies actually work at even the consumer base levels.  Zuckerberg won the day at the session as he presented well enough to leave the clueless – well,  clueless on such matters. The only positive from this session could be some strengthening of privacy laws and controls, but don’t hold your breath.

The approach to finding factual impacts of the misuse of FB data access as relates to the 2016 election leaves out common sense most certainly.

As presented by Mr. Zuckerberg, FB is not in the business of selling any data they collect or extrapolate as part of the Facebook (FB) experience by any of their active 2.13B users worldwide and on any given day approximately 1.4B users log into their FB account. Impressive numbers by any measure. FB has done a phenomenal job in crafting the entity which they have today.

The issue at hand is the charge that personal information on FB users was acquired by Cambridge Analytica (UK) and somehow used to create targeted ads which may have favored President Trump during the election. Factually, it was claimed by FB that the data in question was acquired by a firm which had an app called My Digital Life.  This app did an online survey of 200K+ of their users all of whom were on FB and from the responses they were able to extrapolate preference profiles of not just the 200K+ which took part in the survey, but also all their FB friends as well.  In total, the claim is that 87M accounts were compromised.  In turn, the person who owned this app sold the data to Cambridge Analytica which targeted these 87M users with pro-Trump and anti-Clinton ads.  Was it the GOP indeed who paid Cambridge Analytica or was it whichever entity?  But regardless, what is being completely lost about this issue are the common-sense factors.  Consider the following facts:

  • The Obama Campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were the first to effectively utilize the power of social media, yet no one has investigated that impact on those elections. FB was only one social media outlet used – were there any target ads produced at that time?
  • 87M FB accounts was the number of users compromised per FB – these were worldwide numbers and not just in the US. FB has not released figures on exactly how many US users were impacted though I have seen estimates which run between 25-50M
  • How many of these were of actual voting age?
  • FB provides (or at least did provide) app developers for their platform, access to various information on their user roles thus this is how My Digital Life was able to obtain info in the first place – the door was open and shame on FB it would seem
  • FB claims that they decide which targeted ads get displayed to which users and not those who actually pay on a per click basis for the ads which begs a bunch of questions does it not
  • Mind boggling that to date and certainly not at the Congressional Hearing this week have any examples of these targeted ads been produced for viewing for public scrutiny
  • There is absolutely no way to determine the impact of these ads – how many voters did it sway to vote differently – or did they in any significant numbers? How many actually clicked on the ad to get more info – interesting – FB has not produced those numbers and should
  • I prefer to believe that while some voters could be swayed by a potential targeted ad , those would be few in number in relative terms
  • I would like to see in which states these FB users resided and how did the electoral votes play out in those states
  • Of the potential FB users who were targeted – how many actually voted in the election?
  • FB has refused to date to provide how many anti-Trump ads were actually, fully rendered to their users and shame on Congress for not addressing this as well. To think that the Clinton Campaign did not do something similar given the success of the two Obama Campaign focuses on social media especially FB – lets be real
  • All one can conclude from this is that there was FB data information shared unknowingly with a group who in turn was able to sell the data to a firm who used it to create profiles for voters of a particular persuasion. But did they only provide ads for the GOP or did they also provide ads for the Dem as well – that has not been mentioned as yet – and should be one way or the other

While I detest the use of technology for any devious or illegal purpose, I ponder the question from the 2012 election. In the heat of that campaign, a noted Dem Senator claimed in a nationally televised pronouncement on the Floor of Congress that Candidate Romney had not paid taxes in 10 years. That comment got top billing in the social media, print, online and tv media. After the election was over, this Senator was asked about the comment – to which he replied – well we won the election . It was a false accusation. How many votes for Romney were lost because of this outright attempt to sway voters via false statements and what is the difference between this FB illegality and a noted Senator making a false statement with coverage that most likely far exceeded the number of voters who may have been exposed to some ads?

Politics on both sides of the aisle has become engaged in frightening , deceitful and divisive rhetoric and actions which is threatening the very fabric of our Nation. Factual information is becoming a rare commodity and shame that we who have contributed to the advancement of technologies may well have contributed to the demise of a once great Nation.

 

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