The most important lesson to remember about the Internet is this: If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer — you’re the product. With that in mind, NBC News’ peek into Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to weaponize Facebook user data for his own purposes is not only not surprising, it’s laughably obvious:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg oversaw plans to consolidate the social network’s power and control competitors by treating its users’ data as a bargaining chip, while publicly proclaiming to be protecting that data, according to about 4,000 pages of leaked company documents largely spanning 2011 to 2015 and obtained by NBC News.
The documents, which include emails, webchats, presentations, spreadsheets and meeting summaries, show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook’s trove of user data — including information about friends, relationships and photos — as leverage over companies it partnered with.
In some cases, Facebook would reward favored companies by giving them access to the data of its users. In other cases, it would deny user-data access to rival companies or apps.
For example, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising and partnering with the social network on the launch of its Fire smartphone. In another case, Facebook discussed cutting off access to user data for a messaging app that had grown too popular and was viewed as a competitor, according to the documents.
And … so? Yes, it’s slimy, and yes, it’s creepy, but Zuckerberg didn’t force Facebook users to upload every gritty detail of their lives. Users did that on their own. What did they think Facebook was going to do with it, especially since they were getting access to all this data for free themselves? How did they think Zuckerberg got to be a billionaire?
This tranche of documents come from a lawsuit filed by an app design company called Six4Three over Facebook’s treatment of their access to the data. Their app, Pikinis, developed an algorithm that found pictures on friends’ sites of people in swimwear, only it turned out to be a little more successful than anticipated. When Facebook tightened their privacy rules in 2015, Pikinis became defunct. That’s why the tranche ends in 2015, the most recent limit of data relevant to Six4Three’s complaint. Since then, Facebook insists that they only discussed treating customer data like livestock.
Of course, Zuckerberg was sanctimoniously proclaiming himself a privacy advocate at the same time. “All the while,” NBC notes, “Facebook was formulating a strategy to publicly frame these moves as a way of protecting user privacy.” They link to a New York Times profile of Zuckerberg’s 2014 efforts to allow users more choice on what data got shared, which almost seems quaint considering what took place since then:
For most of its 10-year history, Facebook has pushed and sometimes forced its users to share more information more publicly, drawing fire from customers, regulators and privacy advocates across the globe. That helped make Facebook the world’s largest social network and an advertising behemoth.
But the company recently concluded that its growth depended on customers feeling more confident that they were sharing intimate details of their lives with only the right people.
“What we really want is to enable people to share what they want,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, said in a recent interview.
And more sharing means more growth and more opportunities to place ads for Facebook.
Mr. Zuckerberg has also watched the rapid growth of privacy-friendly services like WhatsApp and Snapchat and anonymous sharing apps like Secret and Whisper, which compete for the time of many Facebook users, especially the younger ones. That prompted him to strike a deal this year to buy WhatsApp for as much as $19 billion and take steps to make the Facebook social network more respectful of user privacy.
Ahem. Did anyone really believe that Zuckerberg spent $19 billion to buy up a competitor for the purpose of making Facebook “more respectful of user privacy”? Had WhatsApp continued to be a Facebook competitor, that pressure might have forced both platforms to meet user demands for privacy. Buying Whatsapp eliminated that pressure and enforced Facebook’s social-media platform dominance.
Anyone who thinks these efforts to exploit user data ended in 2015 can send bids on a Big Apple bridge to [email protected], along with banking data needed for wire transfers. Zuckerberg’s selling a product, which is how he and the rest of the Facebook empire get paid. They may strategize ways in which you look less like a spiral ham getting sliced up for their banquet so you’ll squeal less, but you’re still the glazed ham. Your data is their product, and after one accepts that reality, nothing in this NBC News exposé is at all noteworthy except for the sanctimonious hypocrisy. Even at that, it’s basically a rehash of the Six4Three story from December.