By now the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook story is a little old. I was aiming to write about it as it was evolving, but I couldn’t get there.
When I first heard that Cambridge Analytica had information on 50 million Americans from Facebook, it was the least surprising news I could think of. Some were saying it was a data breech, but that to me, means that the information was stolen through some kind of illegal hacking. It is my understanding that this is just how advertising has worked at Facebook.
So while I think you can (and should) get angry at Cambridge Analytica, it’s not going to the solve the problem. People naturally went up the food chain and got angry at Facebook. Some people have even deleted their accounts. Finally, they can breath easy knowing that their privacy is protected, right?
Wrong. A lot of other places already have their data.
What’s surprising to me is that people seem to be surprised by Facebook having and using information about them. How didn’t they think Facebook, which sells no physical product to people, was worth more than 3 times Disney?
Weren’t we all aware this was the trade off we were making. If not we should have been. We were told about it so many different ways that it was even made into very comedy.
Check it out:
That video does great job of covering Facebook and Google. However, it doesn’t mention having Googe Android phones, which I do. I chose Android because it was more “open” than the other choice, Apple.
Google and Facebook know more about you that may think. People might freak out when they see everything they know about you.
The video doesn’t mention anything about Amazon, which I’m sure knows almost as much. Even smaller companies pose a problem. Netflix was testing ways to get kids more addicted to Netflix. However, Netflix saves children from watching a lot of advertising as well.
All of this data collection is going on and there really isn’t much you can do about. You’d have to be extremely vigilant, probably change your lifestyle (goodbye smartphone, goodbye credit cards), and even then some stuff would probably slip through the cracks.
And while we can all “vote” how we feel by deleting Facebook, it’s unlikely to cause a dent in the 2 billion people who aren’t going to vote with you. If I delete my LinkedIn account, I’m only hurting my own chances at career networking.
There’s a lot talk out there that we choose for this to happen. I’m not sure everyone wanted to give up their privacy. However, as the video above explained, we didn’t want to pay for websites, so giving up identities to advertisers was the bargain we made. On the other hand, it would have been impossible to charge people real money for every website they wanted to visit. We’re seeing how those costs add up with just streaming media accounts nowadays.
Privacy Isn’t Just these Big Internet Companies
So far I’ve only covered all the internet stuff that you should be old news to you. There’s a lot more out there.
Morgan Spurlock covered “Privacy” in May of 2014 on the CNN show, Inside Man. You can watch the episode here. Some of the episode does cover the big internet websites. However, it covers so much more than Google or Facebook. If this topic is interesting to you, you should spend 42 minutes and watch it.
There are many mysterious companies (ever hear of Epsilon?) that have all our information aggregated. Spurlock goes on a quest to try to get his information from those companies. I won’t spoil the show, but I think it ends how you think it does.
It’s Time for Regulators to Help Consumers
I think we’ve established that most consumers can’t do much to protect themselves. Much of the time we don’t who has our data or who is selling it. After huge Equifax attack, we all said, “Wait, this is crazy. We didn’t even choose to let them have our data in the first place.”
Individually it seems we can’t hold companies accountable. If Morgan Spurlock can’t get his data after traveling across the country, the rest of us don’t have much of a shot. Have you ever tried to get Google on the phone?
The only people with the power to hold the companies accountable is regulators. Most of the time they aren’t interested. They only get interested when the media makes repeated national stories about Equifax or Facebook. Have you ever seen a group of regulators go after Epsilon like Spurlock?
My idea here for a solution isn’t unique. In fact this excellent Bloomberg article goes deeper into it than I do. The time to create a Digital Protection Agency is long overdue.
I don’t even know if this will work, but at least it would be a step in the right direction. Like a lot of things these days, it seems like it’s going to be a long journey.