I have to admit I am a bit of a skeptic on the whole Cambridge Analytica thing. It’s been fun watching them backpedal on their claims, to the degree that they now claim that the data they have been selling politicians for ages isn’t the magic beans they always claimed it was.
Who knows what outcomes were really influenced, and how do we prove it? Media influence is very hard to prove. I’m dubious simply because old media spent virtually all of its time, too, trashing Hillary Clinton, too, and she still won the popular vote. Is it more comforting to believe that people were manipulated by big, bad big data than to accept that there were people out there weirdly empowered by a broken electoral system who were never, ever going to going to vote for a woman, even Sarah Palin, and especially not Hillary Clinton?
So deleting your Facebook: people gotta do what they got to do. Move over to Snap, that’s fun. But this is the world we live in now, people. Your data, though absolutely vital, is not really vital because there are thousands more like you who will stay, and your behavior/preferences/biases can be gleaned from them. Americans love to think their individual actions, especially their consumer behavior, amount to something. And they do–each life matters. But not each data point.
I remember having a conversation with the brilliant Matt Young about Ed Snowden. Matt had more faith; I have been consistently astounded that people are upset about surveillance. To the degree that people think they can control human behavior with marketing and media, and we have relational data and online capture, everything, from Snowden’s NSA disclosures to Cambridge Analytics, has felt pretty inevitable to me. Matt dissents, and he’s way smarter than me, but…still. Connectivity is connectivity, and when I scrape my data every so often, the conclusion is, simply, that I lead a boring life and that’s probably about all the protection I’m ever going to get.
And I don’t really mind targeted marketing. I much more mind just blasting me with ads. But showing me stuff I might actually like? I’m good with that.
Where to go? Well, even though CA broke the rules, Facebook’s tacit contract with its users has always been data harvest. That won’t change. It’s still a great way to share your kids’ photos with your family and friends. That hasn’t changed, either.
The fundamental asymmetry is simply that the algorithm and big data salespeople want the data–and the non-users’ belief that with these data, big data wizards can predict anything, persuade anyone, solve everything– but not the democratic accountability, and virtually none of the players on the CS side really want that to change as far as I can see. It’s their payment for developing apps.
IOW, user, beware.