This week has been a nightmare for Facebook, the world’s largest social network, and it can still get worse.
First, we got to find out that a Trump-aligned company, Cambridge Analytica, used Facebook to conduct what was supposedly a personality quiz, but the data collected from the 270,000 people who took the quiz led to the data of over 50 million users being mined and deployed for manipulation of US elections.
Then, we found out that Cambridge Analytica also was involved in manipulating elections in Nigeria in 2007 and in Kenya in 2017, again using Facebook. Have a look at these tweets:
This chain of revelations have thrown up questions about the privacy of Facebook users and how Facebook functions and runs as a business. Consider that only 270,000 people participated in Cambridge Analytica’s disguised quiz on Facebook, yet their friends and networks were just as vulnerable.
While this manipulation was carried out by Cambridge Analytica, manipulation is not something that only Facebook 3rd party actors use. The whole essence of Facebook is manipulation. The app thrives on manipulating your feed, manipulating you, and manipulating your networks.
Facebook’s existence depends on data and user mining and manipulation. In other words, Facebook would fall under the class of surveillance companies.
Facebook As A Surveillance Company
Edward Snowden has something to say about a great deception that has been pulled off in the modern world:
Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as “surveillance companies.” Their rebranding as “social media” is the most successful deception since the Department of War became the Department of Defense.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 17, 2018
Social networks may be great in many ways, but they are what Snowden has described here: surveillance companies. They are part of Big Brother, and we willingly carry them around every day on our cell phones.
I was not shocked to find out that Facebook threatened The Guardian over the Cambridge Analytica story:
Facebook are not the good guys. But then we know what power does to humans. Facebook has become so powerful that it is willing to throw its weight around.
The Delete Facebook Campaign
There is an ongoing #DeleteFacebook campaign. Those behind it say – and with good reason – that “Facebook is part of the Big Brother system of control – see Orwell’s 1984. It sells all of your personal data to Governments & Corporations. It manipulates and censors what you can see and what you don’t see online. It even tries to manipulate your current mood.”
Here is the source of that quote:
Facebook is part of the Big Brother system of control – see Orwell's 1984.
It sells all of your personal data to Governments & Corporations.
It manipulates and censors what you can see and what you don't see online.
It even tries to manipulate your current mood.#DeleteFacebook pic.twitter.com/OFrIX3MYLI
— Ian56 (@Ian56789) March 20, 2018
Their recommendation? Delete Facebook. Armed with facts about how powerful Facebook has become because of the amount of user personal data it holds and the uses that such data can be put to, it is difficult to argue against that.
Even Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp is all for deleting Facebook:
Acton has always rooted for digital privacy, so this is not exactly surprising. Sad that he and his partner sold WhatsApp to Facebook though. But I digress. Deleting Facebook is a great idea, if you choose to do that. It may just not be practicable for everyone.
What Can You Do?
Following this uproar, there are Facebook users who have deleted their accounts. Others are applying more stringent restrictions on their account by taking away permission from 3rd party aps they have used on Facebook.
This is the least you can do to protect yourself: tighten your privacy controls on Facebook. If you have ever participated in a quiz there, dive into your privacy settings to withdraw permission from those apps. You see, once you give an app permission, it stays permitted till you withdraw it.
Sadly, even that s not enough to protect you, as we have seen in the case of the Cambridge quiz: only 270,000 people took the quiz, but their networks of 50 million Friends got scammed too. There is something wrong about how Facebook works, and it needs fixing.
It has to be fixed because no other social network has deep access to so many details of users lives like Facebook does. And no other social network is as large as Facebook is. User privacy is a big problem online, but no other social network has anything close to Facebook’s leverage.
Personally I shy away from all those quizzes and other 3rd party fun apps that want me to grant them access to my account. I also keep very personal, sensitive stuff away from Facebook (and indeed other social networks).
I am not averse to deleting my Facebook account or that of any other social network. I left Instagram a few months ago. I have left Facebook before but had to get back on eventually for work’s sake. So, leaving Facebook is not an option for me (yet), because business pages are tied to personal accounts. The day Facebook cuts this tie is the day I get off.
Whatever you choose to do, just be aware that Big Brother is not only watching. It is at work sifting through your data, and trying to manipulate you and many others.
Will Facebook Survive This?
Facebook has survived other crises in the past. Facebook certainly needs to review their identity and private data management polices and practices. The company is now under investigation by a dozen and a half authorities around the world. And individual users are deleting their accounts. Some financiers are already scouting for developers interested in building an alternative to Facebook.
Facebook may or may not survive this crisis. By that, I do not mean that Facebook will die and disappear. Afterall, even MySpace, supposedly dead, still records 15 million monthly visits. But it has lost its hold on many. With Facebook, as with everything else, time will tell.
- whatsapp co-founder