Facebook is not a social network, it’s a data collection machine

A response prompted by a Kari Paul article in The Guardian: Facebook launches app that will pay users for their data

The Sturdy app shows anyone who wants to see that Facebook is not a social network, it’s a data collection machine.

A new Facebook app will allow users to sell the company data on how they use competitors’ apps.

How does Facebook use the data it collects? I think it’s using our data against us. When I first wrote that sentence it came out as, “using it against it’s users.” I quickly realised, even if you don’t use Facebook, you come into contact with someone who does. Facebook knows something about you through them. When it says it’s connecting people it really is connecting people, mapping the many ways we brush against each other.

Imagine you’re walking along Piccadilly at 3.30 in the afternoon. Someone takes a picture, and posts it at 3.31. Facebook knows something about the person who posted the picture, and the location of everyone captured in the photo. What if Mark Zuckerberg was walking along Piccadilly, and at 3.32 someone spat in his face. The picture taken at 3.30 might show the assailant. It makes everyone in the picture a suspect.

Facebook gets to work cross-referencing various accounts, pulling up the latest facial recognition software. Suddenly the police are at your door, making you account for your actions between 3.15 and 3.45. You were minding your own business, but now you have to prove it. You have to prove somehow you didn’t spit in Mark Zuckerberg’s face. They’re not trying to prove you did it, you’re trying to prove you didn’t.

At this point I can hear a certain section of the population repeating a mantra, throwing it in my direction like some spunk sodden flannel, “nothing to hide nothing to fear.” That’s not an argument, it’s an accusation. You assume I have something I hide because I don’t want to account for my whereabouts.

Now imagine the world taking a sudden turn towards the authoritarian? What if people below a certain income level aren’t allowed to walk along Piccadilly? The police are at your door, questioning you about the assault on Mark Zuckerberg, but arresting you for being too poor to be on Piccadilly.

Who knows how this technology is being used, or will be used in the future? Facebook aren’t mining data because it’s fun. They’re doing it because it’s worth something. The information they collect can be used for what? Changing your purchasing habits? Telling you what you know about the world? Influencing elections?

Facebook is not a benign force. It’s a data collection machine. Now ask yourself how’s it being used?

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