Facebook Storm
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Facebook: a monster out of control?

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The social network created by Mark Zuckerberg is used to collecting superlatives. Its users number in the billions, its turnover is astronomical, its data analysis is the most accurate in the world, and so forth. The storm that Facebook is currently going through can only be huge, planetary, apocalyptic. All the media around the world are offended by this "Cambridge Analytica" case of private data misappropriation, while the boss of the social network remains silent. What if all of this is in order? Facebook has become so big, so big, so complex, that it's out of control, even by its leaders. An uncontrollable monster is calling out to the world.
 
Rs Cambridge Analytica, a London-based advertising data analysis company, is accused of retrieving data from 50 million Facebook users without their consent in order to develop software to predict and influence voter voting to influence Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
 

What data are we talking about?

Facebook users' personal data and that of their friends was collected using an application called "Facebook". thisisyourdigitallife This is the first time that the "Global Science Research (GSR) Company" has been established by Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan through his company Global Science Research (GSR). The data was forwarded to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to target specific political advertisements to individuals based on their psychometric profile.
 
In 2014, Cambridge Analytica, the voter profiling company that would later provide services for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, launched an application on Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" platform, an online marketplace where people from around the world contract with others to perform various tasks. Cambridge Analytica was looking for people who were American Facebook users. It offered to pay them to download and use a Facebook personality quiz, thisisyourdigitallife.
 
According to the academic David GlanceThe psychometric personality profile was built by asking users to fill out an evaluation questionnaire and also allowing an application to look at the user's Facebook messages and tastes. The profile is based on five traits: "Neurosis" (calm or stressed), "Openness" (traditional or liberal), "Extroversion" (introverted or extroverted), "Agreeableness" (cooperative or competitive) and "Conscientiousness" (organized or flexible).
Approximately 270,000 people installed the application in exchange for 1 $ to 2 $ per download. The application "siphoned" their Facebook profile information but also the detailed profile information of their friends. Facebook then provided all this data to the creators of the application who, in turn, passed it on to Cambridge Analytica.
 
A few hundred thousand people may not seem like a lot, but since Facebook users have an average of a few hundred friends each, the number of people whose data was collected quickly grew to about 50 million. Most of these people had no idea that their data had been siphoned off (after all, they hadn't installed the application themselves), let alone that the data would be used to shape voter targeting and messaging for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
 

The data business

This weekend, after all this was revealed by The New York Times and The ObserverThe Sunday edition of the British daily The Guardian, Facebook, publicly announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica (well over a year after the election) and vehemently denied that it was a "data breach". Paul Grewal, Facebook's vice president and deputy general counsel, wrote that " the assertion that this is a breach of data protection is completely false ». He said that Facebook users " have knowingly provided their information, no system has been infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive information has been stolen or hacked ». He also said that " everyone gave their consent ".
 
Mr Grewal is right: it was not a violation in the technical sense of the word. But it was something even more disturbing: a natural consequence of Facebook's business model, which involves people going to the site for social interaction and then being quietly subjected to a gigantic surveillance system. The results of this surveillance are used to feed a sophisticated and opaque set of algorithms to finely target ads and other products to Facebook users.
 
In other words, Facebook is making money by profiling us and selling our attention to advertisers, politicians and others. These are Facebook's real customers, whom it strives to satisfy.
 
As such, Facebook does not simply record every click and "Like" on a site. It also collects browsing history. It also buys "external" data such as financial information about users (although European countries have regulations that block some of this data). In addition, Facebook recently announced its intention to merge "offline" data - things you do in the physical world, such as shopping in a physical store - with its vast online databases.
 
According to the academic Zeynep TufekciFacebook even creates "ghost profiles" of non-users. That is, even if you're not on Facebook, the company may well have compiled a profile of you, deduced from data provided by your friends or other data.
 

Uninformed consent

Despite Facebook's assertions to the contrary, not everyone involved in Cambridge Analytica's data siphoning has given "consent" - at least not in the true sense of the word. Consent must be "informed". But who can claim to have read in detail the contractual terms of use posted by a site like Facebook? Dozens of pages in small print, in Anglo-Saxon legal style. They say "I accept" without reading, to benefit from the service without waiting. Likewise, who is able to make their way through the confusing option tables to set the publication permissions for their data? One prefers to skip and leave the default options checked.
The data collected by Facebook is not the result of informed consent, but of the exploitation of users' trust.
 
Let's now assume, for the sake of argument, that you have explicitly consented to the transfer of your Facebook data. Can you state that you are aware of the latest academic research on computational inference? Are you aware that algorithms can now infer personality traits, sexual orientation, political views, mental health status, and history of substance abuse from one's "likes" on Facebook - and that new applications of this data are being discovered every day?
 
Given the confusion and rapidly changing circumstances about how algorithms process data, consent for ongoing data collection can be neither fully informed nor truly consensual - especially since it is virtually irrevocable.
 

Hypocrisy and impotence

Facebook remains all the more silent on the Cambridge Analytica affair as it is its business model that is at stake. Facebook itself uses this type of approach to target ads to users and therefore refrains from criticizing others for doing the same. The fact is that as long as companies make their money from advertising, they will try to make that advertising as effective as possible by collecting increasingly detailed personal and behavioral information about their users in order to target ads and make them more effective.
Social networking and search companies such as Facebook and Google therefore have little incentive to limit the amount and type of information collected or how that information is used to target users through advertising.
 
So when Facebook takes offense at Cambridge Analytica's siphoning off, it's actually at odds. It poses as a victim and launches an investigation to condemn the actions of the London agency, but at the same time, it appears singularly powerless. As our colleague explains Numerama, " Of course, the social network cannot monitor every one of the millions of applications that are created and use its APIs (programming interfaces). Let alone know when data collected with user consent is subsequently sold to third parties in what looks like a kind of black market. ".
For the GuardianA former administrator of the data used by the developers believes that the black market in Facebook data is a fact and that Facebook has no control. For him, Cambridge Analytica is the tip of the iceberg.
 
In its defence in the media and stock market storm that hit it, Facebook claims that it did not understand the extent to which its data could be used in a dangerous way. It was allegedly misled. Thus, Facebook is said to have built an infernal machine capable of massively collecting the most personal data, this machine values the company at $500 billion, and the social network claims to be a victim. Victim of who? The opaque actions of companies like Cambridge Analytica - or others, because there are thousands of applications that run thanks to and with Facebook's data? Or victim of the machine that Facebook itself created? A machine that has become uncontrollable, too big, too powerful.
 
The latter is likely. It would explain the silence of Mark Zuckerberg, who has a lot to lose in this case. Indeed, beyond the few billions that vanished in 48 hours of stock market trading, did not the Facebook boss have ambitions of go into politics that could lead him to the Oval Office of the White House? Ambition now compromised because what this case reveals is his inability to control the most powerful surveillance machine of all time. A machine that is now turning against its creators, which seems to have become self-sustaining. The only way to unplug it would be to deprive it of data. This is what the movement proposes #deletefacebook which calls on Internet users around the world, for a matter of public health, to simply leave Facebook.
 
 

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