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Quote of the Day: Elon Musk: “Facebook Gives Me the Willies.”

2018-04-02

“I think we just have to acknowledge the entire industry’s complicity with what’s happening with Facebook,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, an internet real estate firm. “It’s almost like we’re Inspector Renault in ‘Casablanca’ where we say we’re shocked, shocked with what’s happening and then a moment later someone hands us our winnings.”

Another tech leader, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, said recently on Twitter that none of his companies advertise on the social network and vowed to take down the official Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX.

“It’s not a political statement and I didn’t do this because someone dared me to do it,” he wrote. “Just don’t like Facebook. Gives me the willies. Sorry.”

Many people have repeated the truism that Facebook regards people as its product, not its customers, because Facebook receives income from the sale of blocks of personal data about large numbers of people– who pay nothing for the service of having their data listed and conglomerated.

There is a body of opinion that regards Facebook as “evil” because its business model is based on agglomeration of personal data, but to be consistent, we would have to regard a phonebook (remember those?) as “evil” too.  What is actually evil is the use to which political entities (those which traffic in the election of political leaders/controllers rather than the sale of commodities) have put Facebook’s ability to single out individuals and small groups of people for targeted, individualized propaganda (“advertising” for a political personality or a point of view or attitude) and attempts by foreign (mostly Russian) agents to promote fear and division among American voters by finding and reinforcing anxieties.

The new capability which Facebook brings to advertising and propaganda is its “microtargeting”– the ability to tailor messages to individuals and small groups defined by their data profiles.  Amalgamation of certain combinations of data can reveal to a significant degree of specificity what a person’s “private” attitudes may be (such as one’s sexual preferences, for example) and to what extent they are susceptible to tailored messages in the first place.

To some people, this capability is trivial or even irrelevant– such people are not easily swayed by advertising campaigns or political speeches, no matter how sophisticated the propaganda or how blatant the lies.  To the majority of people, however, this is a powerful tool to which they are highly vulnerable and of which they are completely unaware.  It would be useful if these issues were clearly revealed to individual users before their data is collected and aggregated.  It would be even more useful if it were clear that the individual could opt out of this aggregation of their personal data for use upon them.

(The quotes come from a New York Times article excerpted by the Microsoft new service, dated Monday, April 2, 2018)

(illustration courtesy of pixabay.com and geralt)

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