by Ben Hall
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Over the last several hundred years our economy has been driven by many different forces. The leading source of money & power in the World has moved from resources we could pull from the ground to things we could make to services we could provide to others.
Today, the world economy is built on data. Your name, address, inside leg measurement and what they all say about you are all worth an awful lot of money to an awful lot of people. We are all aware that the sharing of this data is the price we pay for the online services we use. But at a time where the news is littered with terms like ‘data mining’, and pictures of tech magnates attempting to explain their business practices to our highest ranking politicians, are we still happy with the deal?
This year Facebook founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced the United States Congress and has also been called to face a Parliamentary Committee here in the UK as authorities attempt to take a peek under the hood of goings on at their Silicon Valley HQ. It’s becoming an increasingly held belief that the ubiquitous, unregulated and uncensored nature of such platforms has contributed to the subtle gaslighting of western society. If you were to watch footage of the Congressional hearing, political grandstanding and the typical parrying and jousting aside, you’d see that all involved (Zuckerberg included) are trying to figure out between themselves if any serious, real red lines have been crossed.
How did it come to this? How did The Facebook, a website originally developed back in 2002 to be a student directory for an American University, become such a behemoth and subsequently found itself in such deep water? The simple answer is we’ve all found the platform they provide to be incredibly appealing. It’s connected and afforded us quick & easy communication with friends, family and many like-minded people… with the odd troll sprinkled on top for good measure. We didn’t think too much about the potential consequences of being so forthcoming with every last tiny bit of information about ourselves. In their defence I don’t believe Facebook thought too much about the consequences of their product or the ethics they wished to exist by either. Especially in the early years where they lived by the motto ‘Move fast and break things’. They moved fast but they grew even faster. Technology advanced swiftly with the proliferation of smartphones leading to even greater growth. They will never admit it publicly but I think it’s important to openly state that Facebook is an advertising platform. A whopping 98% of its income is generated from ad revenue. When it says it connects people with one another all across the World what it means is it connects its users with paying advertisers. It has also developed a selection of subtle and not-so-subtle tricks to extract more information about yourself to bolster your data profile making it easier still for advertisers to target the exact user demographic they desire.
Who’s Coming to Help Us?
I’m confident that some degree of regulation from lawmakers will come over the next few years. In many ways the Congressional hearing was the start of the negotiating between politicians and Facebook about where the lines should be drawn. For example, the rise of social media has exposed glaring inadequacies in our laws related to electoral spending and reporting on election days. The social media giants will resist as much as they can the desire to make them a pay service.
Ultimately, you have the power to help yourself without denying yourself the majority of the benefits that these online services have to offer.
You don’t have to go cold turkey but I would encourage and advocate digital mindfulness.
Maintain ownership of your data. Ask yourself whether you’re really prepared to share a particular photo, comment or like with everyone else. Perform your own usage audits of not only your social media profiles but all those other digital accounts you’ve signed up to over the last decade or so. Their part of the bargain has changed so it’s only right you decide for yourself with what you are willing to part in exchange for their service.