The Cambridge Analytica Scandal Explains Why Facebook Can’t Be Trusted

Vox, as usual, has a great explainer (click me!) on what happened in the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. One take-home message for me from this article is that Facebook can’t be trusted because they can’t know what other people will do with the data they obtain on or from Facebook.

It basically describes that someone created an app that several hundred thousand people played with on Facebook. The app gathered raw Facebook data on those people and all their Facebook friends which is what took it to over 50 million profiles, allegedly without notifying those who played with the apps that it would harvest from their friends, too. That appears to be against Facebook’s policies.

Furthermore, the sale of data gathered from other than the people who directly interacted with the app is against Facebook’s policies, also.

So, in a sense, Facebook is blameless? After all, it is alleged someone hacked their system and broke their rules.

For me, blameless or not, Facebook can’t be trusted with all it knows about us. The reason is that even with all the rules and protections in place that it cares to have, Facebook is unlikely to be able to detect many of these kinds of breaches and unlikely to be willing to do anything about those it detects. If my friend steals a candy bar and sells it to me, I’m unlikely to know it was stolen property and the store is unlikely to discover it was sold to another person. The only way I get connected to receiving stolen property is if the thief confesses or I mention I’ve got an unusual candy bar that I shouldn’t have. That’s what happened in the Cambridge Analytica situation, one of their worker bees let it be known that he was working with data he knew he shouldn’t have.

Without those kinds of confessions, such theft will happen without anyone knowing they have been victimized.

Furthermore, Facebook has little in the way of important and close motivators to protect data once out of their hands. Such app creators and advertisers are the real paying customers of Facebook. The money comes from them. Suing the hands that feed you is very very difficult to do. Cutting them off from access to data means cutting them off from the revenue stream. Also, lawsuits are public knowledge. Lawsuits about data mishandling are going to destroy more of the product that Facebook sells (the alleged billions of users). With every news story people choose to leave and others choose to never sign up. Competitors such as Mastodon gain a stronger beachhead with their open-source non-profit system.

So, because Facebook can’t know about data mishandling and there are few proximal motivators for Facebook to try to know, they can’t be trusted. Even if Facebook made all kinds of very nicely worded rules about how naughty app creators will be if they mishandle data, they can’t be trusted because there is literally zero reason to trust them.

I had already decided to walk away from Facebook a month ago and I feel better about it as each news cycle unwinds.

 

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