A few more thoughts on this whole Facebook debacle

april 16, 2018

Last  edited: 25-06-2018

Random observations on how people react to the Facebook data breach and apply cognitive dissonance to calm themselves.

Last month it became known to the public that Facebook suffered a  major data breach. A lot of people including myself were shocked.

It’s not a secret that I’ve never been a fan of Facebook. I wrote this article in dutch a couple of years ago explaining several reasons why I did not want to join the biggest social network in the world. Reasons not to join only grew more over the years but came forth from experiences that I had with some precursors of the social network. This combined with a number of insights that I gained about the big implications of big data.

Human Nature

On that note: I can recommend everyone to read up on the big data topic or even better, follow a course on big data vs ethics.

It’s not my style to say “I told you so” to the people that were previously Facebook ambassadeurs and are now panicking and re-considering their Facebook account.  It’s human nature to perceive things just as it’s been presented or framed to you. People with an opposite opinion, who express themselves critically, are often seen as buzz killers. Only through experiences we are able to shift a paradigm into a different direction. But even then it takes a lot of effort and layers of cognitive dissonance to eliminate first. This may also explain why a lot of people are still on Facebook and are not even considering to leave.

A smoking analogy

facebook-cigarettes
Original image by Anton Deloy

Almost every single person in the world knows that smoking is bad for your health. Still a lot of people keep smoking cigarettes and don’t even consider to quit. Why not? Practically for the same reasons people don’t give up on Facebook.

  • Everyone else does it and I don’t want to feel being left out
  • People can grow old with it, so it’s not so harmful after all
  • I am pretty careful and I know what I’m doing
  • It’s very convenient and also has some benefits 
  • I just CANT quit (aka addiction)

Even if people know that it’s better to say goodbye to Facebook( and Google, Linkedin etc), they might (for now) continue to use it anyway. Whether it’s fear of change, not knowing what to do else or just missing the point, people are not done with Facebook just yet.

By missing the point I mean people who are not quite grasping what has actually happened and why this is such a dangerous development. I’m pointing to the people who say they have nothing to hide because their lives are not that interesting. Or the ones that say, I don’t share a lot of information, so what can they possibly know about me. If that’s you than please read on. You might learn something new.

Some Points not to be missed

Facebook says it does not sell your data(which I do not believe) but only uses it to serve you targeted advertisements. It’s important to know that data can be used for a whole lot more than advertising. It can be used for almost everything including all kinds of illegal activities. And though FB claims not to sell your data, they don’t even have to. Technology today enables capable users to get their hands on a lot of these data sets anyway, for instance through social engineering.

Your pictures, your quotes, your personal characteristics,.  All this data can be taken out of context and applied into new ones that go beyond imagination. Not knowing what this will be is actually an important factor for people not seeing any danger.

Well, we now know it can be used for propaganda campaigns or to spread des-information in order to influence opinions and thus change behaviour, like Cambridge Analytica apparently did. When you visit their website they seem like a regular company but notice the upfront payoff in the image below. 

Cambridge Analytica

Facebook and ethics, not so much

Another thing we know is that Facebook is not entirely clear on how they gather data. When asked about the existence of shadow profiles in congress, Marc Zuckerberg answered that he is not familiar with that. However it’s shown that Facebook knows a awful lot about people who are not on FB at all. These data sets are called shadow profiles. What does Facebook want with these shadow profiles? To be clear: People who are not on Facebook have never agreed to any of Facebook’s privacy terms. The video below covers this topics tarting at 0:53.

This embedded content is not available

It will be once you accepted the cookies on this website. Beware that this particular piece of content is hosted on external servers. These servers have their own privacy policy. Read more here

And Facebook knows just about everything. Not just the things you share with them when you are signed in but also the things you do else on the web when you are not on Facebook. Zuckerberg says it’s because of security reasons, pinpointed in the video above at 1:40. Remember that this data gets logged and linked onto your profile account.

If that’s not enough for you, Facebook interferes into your personal life. You already have given them access to the microphone in your smart device. There are a lot of reported stories that Facebook does indeed listen to stories on the background, no matter the claims of Facebook itself stating that this is not true.

I used not to believe this at first as it sounds very conspiracy theory like, but there are many cases of people who literally experienced this.  They saw Facebook advertisements about a subject that they only discussed offline. I already heard about these stories before, but recently experienced this in my direct surroundings as well. And considering the context of that specific conversation I do believe that this has in fact happened.

Of course Facebook can get into a lot of trouble when legally conclusive evidence accumulates. Not because of serving some targeted ads, but because they collect very personal information unauthorised  and have the ability to use it to their liking without legal supervision or governance. 

Also Facebook claims that when someone deletes his account all data will be deleted accordingly. Judging from the image below this also seems not to be the case. Click on the image below to see the conversation about this on Twitter.  Update: The tweet has been deleted since, however this article in de Guardian explains where the guy is coming from.

facebook-deleted-data

So briefly summarised:

  • Facebook accounts can get compromised by social engineering
  • Accounts were actually compromised by an agency who is professionally focussed on modifying people’s opinion and behaviour.
  • Facebook keeps data of non users called shadow profiles.
  • Facebook continues tracking your online behaviour after you signed off, claiming for security reasons.
  • There are cases of targeted advertisings shown to users who never engaged about the topic online, feeding the rumor that the microphone in smart devices has picked up on it. Of course Facebook denies this.
  • Facebook claims they delete all your data after an account is deleted but other sources within Facebook say this can’t be done.

Conclusion

All this together makes Facebook even less trustworthy. Yet they are the most powerful big data company in the world. Remember, we just learned how the data can be used to modify opinions and behaviour, whether this is done by a company called Cambridge Analytica, FB itself, World leaders or who knows. It’s not just about what you share online, it’s also about what Facebook shows to you as a targeted user fitting within a certain profile. This can actually change your opinion and attitude and behaviour towards certain subjects or people.

Of course Facebook is not the only social media platform you should worry about. Same goes for Google and Linkedin to name a few. It starts with awareness. Let’s build a safer and more honest web. 

Alternatives

People are stating they depend on the Facebook network to stay in touch with others but you might want to reconsider this kind of dependency. You give Facebook too much power, wether personal or for business…

An argument that I hear sometimes is that people feel they need to continue to use FB in order to stay in touch with their family, friends, relatives or business associates. In fact these people are implicitly stating they kind of depend on the network to stay in touch with others. In my opinion you can get by without Facebook because there are alternatives. Of course it requires a reinvestment of your time. Take a good look at your Facebook connections and assess how important they are for you to stay in touch with.  Inform those people and invite them to your new homes. If you are as important to them as they are to you, you stay in touch. It’s that simple.

O and if your ‘marketing strategy’ completely relies on Facebook, you can’t really call it a strategy can you? You are just using Facebook for your marketing probably because it’s the most convenient way to do so. Here is a question: What are you gong to do if Facebook decides your business model goes against Facebook policy and does not allow you to use the platform anymore?

Facebook has too much power. Let’s stop this, NOW!