This Is the End


Markets, Risk and Human Interaction

April 1, 2018

Facebook and the Awakening of Our Private Selves

I wrote about Facebook in a blog in January, pointing to ominous clouds on the horizon. (And, one looking at the future of Facebook and the world in 2011.)

For an update. Those clouds now are overhead. With the ever-growing realization that Facebook has been a channel for manipulating our life-as-we-know-it (literally so), there is the drumbeat of #deletefacebook (which I joined last week). And with this are articles showing how difficult it actually can be, which bring to the fore just how deeply Facebook has plunged itself into our being.

There are how-to guides to find alternative to Facebook. There is the recounting of the times Zuckerberg has skirted over the line on privacy, each followed by the ritualistic apology. And there is Colbert's acerbic humor on "Suckerberg", which includes screen shots showing the mind-blowing amount of information Facebook holds on various staff members of his show -- including call's made from one staffer's cellphone, the family tree of another,  and the data for the face-recognition of a third.

Many people will leave Facebook and use alternatives. Some will discover they can leave without using social network alternatives at all. People who stay with Facebook will opt out of everything they can think of, especially related to sharing their personal information with advertisers and apps. (As part of the mea culpa this time around, Facebook is centralizing the privacy settings so you don't have to navigate through twenty different places to do the job.) People will log into apps using their email addresses rather than Facebook, thwarting the insidious tunneling by Facebook beyond its own borders.

Whether people leave or decide to stay with tighter privacy controls, the targeted advertising and third-party sharing that is the life blood of Facebook will be eroded.

Beyond these short-term, but possibly devastating reactions that are focused on Facebook, it is becoming all the more likely that we are at the beginning of a broad sea change in how we view social networking and in our willingness to give up privacy for a song. Jaron Lanier pointed out the faustian bargain we have made with Facebook, Google (which at least gives us something of value in the search engine) and the like, and proposed a path for us to be enfranchised for the personal data we toss into the world.

There is an alternative to the business model of mining personal data, which is having Facebook and others move to a subscription model. But this will not sustain the valuations Facebook currently enjoys. People are not likely to pay out of pocket anywhere near the value that is implied by giving the world all of their personal data. Which suggests just how much we all are giving away.