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Despite data scandals, Facebook is shaping the future

March 29, 2018
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Facebook. FB. The ‘book. Mark Zuckerburg has built the largest social network in the history of human beings, with over 2.2 billion active users each month.

With that amount of activity for an online platform, you quickly amass unfathomable amounts of data. With that amount of personal data, comes unfathomable risk. Should it fall into the wrong hands, who knows what could happen? Who’s to say presidents won’t be wrongly placed into the most powerful position in the world?

Zuckerburg has repeatedly accepted and overcome the security challenge. In doing so, his machine grows smarter and smarter, and brings the world a little bit closer together.

The Facebook way

It’s no secret that Facebook knows everything you do online. It knows which brands you like, what music you listen to, where you’re traveling to and what kind of car you drive. Your relationship with Facebook is likely one of the most intimate relationships you’ve had over the course of your lifetime. It knows everything about you, and knows some of your deepest secrets.

Who were you secretly ranting about in a private message? What inappropriate memes caught your eye? Which less-than-reputable website were you on recently? (Yes, Facebook knows what you’re doing online, regardless of whether or not the activity actually happened on the platform itself.)

It’s also no secret that the ‘book leverages this data for advertisers. In 2017, Facebook generated just shy of $40 billion in ad revenue. That is the Facebook business model: leveraging your data for profit.

Scary? Shady? Creepy? Maybe.

Profitable? Absolutely.

What’s up with Cambridge Analytica?

The most recent Facebook data scandal with Cambridge Analytica brought to light the dangers of this business model. The volume of user activity and data can certainly be dangerous, especially when in the wrong hands.

Although the data of 50 million users was approved for academic purposes a few years ago, many sources claim Cambridge Analytica used this data for commercial purposes in support of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Accusations state that Cambridge Analytica misused this data, without Facebook’s knowledge, and that’s the part that’s stirring up controversy. Stocks are down, accounts are being deleted and advertisers are weary. Media cycles are focused on Facebook’s imperfections, rather than the misguided and likely illegal actions of Cambridge Analytica.

#DeleteFacebook is harder than you think

Obviously, people are upset. How could the ‘book have let this happen?

Despite valiant efforts, people around the world are realizing how difficult it is to actually delete Facebook. Think about the number of times you’ve logged into a third-party app by hitting that blue ‘Log in with Facebook’ button. Hulu, Pinterest, Instagram, Uber, Spotify, Venmo, Tinder and hundreds of other commonly used apps have this convenient feature.

So, if you’re going to delete your Facebook account, you better be prepared to proactively update your information on all of those other profiles.

If you succeed in doing that, I hate to inform you that those third-party apps still keep the data that they’ve already gathered, and they’re not required to delete it. Furthermore, Facebook’s Social Graph technology will still track your activity online.

There are ways to truly get off the grid and stop your data in its tracks, but you better have a lot of time on your hands. And who does?

Beyond the issue of where your personal data is ending up, Facebook has mastered local events, fundraisers, and the physical, offline marketplace. It has replaced physical photo albums, and will let you send money to a friend. This machine that Zuckerburg has built has become so deeply ingrained into everything you do, both in person and online; you didn’t even realize it before this scandal.

And this is only the start.

Facebook seeks to connect communities

Facebook’s mission is to give people a voice and help them connect to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.

Facebook is on pace to spend over $2 billion this year on R&D, leading to further capabilities, integrations and systematic dependencies.

This concept may terrify some. The thought of everything being connected through a cloud-based grid controlled by technology and artificial intelligence can seem a bit nerve wracking. But the truth is that it will open the door to better information sharing and, ultimately, revenue streams.

Zuckerburg’s machine helps humans connect with one another. These connections result in shared experiences, education and opportunity. His initiatives to bring the internet to Third World countries that struggle to find clean water may seem misguided, but this is a huge step in connecting them with the education and resources needed to change the status quo and escape an otherwise bleak future.

Zuckerburg did not set out with malicious intent or to make more money than the next guy. His motives are genuine.

Paving the way

The Cambridge Analytica scandal represents only the latest hurdle that Zuckerburg and his team will face on this journey. The laws and regulations have not kept pace with technology, and this storyline represents no exception. The distinction between legally using user data for micro-targeted advertising and illegally manipulating individual user data is very thin, and it’s one that hasn’t been drawn before. In that sense, Facebook is bearing the brunt of the heat.

Did they make mistakes? Certainly. And Zuckerburg was open to admitting it. After the Cambridge scandal, he apologized: “We have a responsibility to protect people’s data, and if we can’t do that, then we don’t have the opportunity to serve them.”

But the people behind Facebook aren’t perfect and they have taken steps to prevent this from happening again. The truth is, the problem of security is never completely solved. Facebook will continue to increase the size of its security team, lock down third-party access to data and create stricter policies for access. But its adversaries will invest equal resources into overcoming these measures. As a result, the legal sphere will lag behind and struggle to keep up.

Should you be upset?

If you must, be upset with Facebook because some third-party developer misused data that was originally obtained from them legally. Be upset with Facebook because you don’t actually understand what happened or what this even means to you personally. Be upset with Facebook because you didn’t pay attention to, or understand, your own privacy settings.

But, this is a pivotal time in society. At the end of the day, Zuckerburg is on a well-guided mission to make the world a smarter, more efficient and more connected place. Can you say the same?

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