At the moment the media is full of the story about Cambridge Analytica, and it’s use of Facebook profiles/data in order to (allegedly) provide personality profiles and feedback to campaigns such as the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Personally, I’m more surprised at how shocked and amazed most people are about this.
Facebook has never really been about being useful to people – it’s always been a marketer’s wet-dream, getting people to voluntarily enter information about themselves, as well as about their interests, social connections, preferences, brands, and so on. The ‘social network’ thing was effectively a mechanism to make things work better for advertisers and marketers – it drew people in, it made them happy to give up their data, and their ‘reward’ was to connect with other people.
In the case of Cambridge Analytica, they appear to have taken the submitted data and linked profiles (as well as the ‘friends of friends’ profiles, which is pretty dodgy as they didn’t consent to it themselves, but again, I’m pretty sure that was part of Facebook’s allowances at the time) and then made use of that data for their own uses. Which isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – Facebook’s problem. Supposedly the data from Facebook ‘wasn’t meant to be shared with others’, but that’s pretty tricky to word. If a vendor has sold me something (regardless of whether that product is data, goods, services, or whatever) and I’ve paid for it, then it’s mine to with as I will. It’s no longer the vendor’s responsibility. Otherwise we’re saying “I bought a car and drove it at people, it’s the vendor’s fault, they shouldn’t have sold it to me“, which is frankly fucking ridiculous.
There’ll be a lot more of these ‘stories’ to come out now, from any number of different data providers/handlers. Now Facebook are in the media’s gunsights, they’re going to have a tough time getting out of it. (And bearing in mind the ubiquity of Facebook logins on other sites for things like commenting, etc., it’s going to be quite the shitshow, I suspect)
All told, though, it’s just utterly unsurprising – except for the apparent shock of so many people who seemed to think that Facebook was some kind of benevolent ‘let the world stay in touch’ thing, with no cynical over-arching purpose, budget, plan, or activities.