Commentary

The Pillorying Of Zuckerberg

Author’s Note: When I started this column, I thought I agreed with the views stated. And I still do, mostly. But by the time I finished it, there was doubt niggling at me. It’s hard when you’re an opinion columnist who’s not sure you agree with your own opinion.

So here’s what I decided to do. I’m running this column as I wrote it. Then, next week, I’m going to write a second column rebutting some of it.

Let’s face it. We love it when smartasses get theirs. For example: Sir Martin Sorrell. Sorry, your lordship, but I always thought you were a pontificating and pretentious dickhead, and I’m kind of rooting for the team digging up dirt on you. Let’s see if you doth protest too much.

Or Jeff Bezos. OK, granted Trump doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about regarding Amazon. And we apparently love the company. But just how much sympathy do we really have for the world’s richest man? Couldn’t he stand to be taken down a few pegs?

And don’t get me started on Bill Gates.

But the capo di tutti capi of smartasses is Mark Zuckerberg.  As mad as we are about the gushing security leak that has sprung on his watch, aren’t we all a little bit schadenfreude-ish as we watch the public flailing that is currently playing out? It’s immensely satisfying to point a finger of blame -- and it’s doubly so to point it at Mr. Zuckerberg.

Which finger you use I’ll leave to your discretion.

But here’s the thing. As satisfying as it is to make Mark our scapegoat, this problem is systemic. It’s not the domain of one man, or even one company.

I’m not absolving Facebook and its founder from blame. I’m just spreading it around so it’s a little more representatively distributed.

And as much as we may hate to admit it, some of that blame ends up on our plate. We enabled the system that made this happen. We made personal data the new currency of exchange. And now we’re pissed off because there were exchanges made without our knowledge.

It all comes down to this basic question: Who owns our data?

Up to now, we’ve been more than happy to surrender our data in return for the online functionality we need to pursue trivial goals. We rush to play Candy Crush, damn the consequences. We have mindlessly put our data in the hands of Facebook without any clear boundaries around what was and wasn’t acceptable for us.

If we look at data as a new market currency, our relationship with Facebook is really no different from that of a bank, when we deposit our money and allow the bank to use our money for its own purposes in return for paying us interest.

This is how markets work. They are complicated and interlinked -- and the furthest thing possible from being proportionately equitable.

Personal data is a big industry. And, as in any industry, there is a value chain emerging. We are on the bottom of that chain. We supply the raw data.

It's no coincidence that terms like “mining,” “scraping” and “stripping” are used when we talk about harvesting data. The digital trails of our behaviors and private thoughts are a raw resource that has become incredibly valuable.

And Facebook just happens to be strategically placed in the market to reap the greatest rewards. It adds value by aggregating and structuring the data. Advertisers then buy prepackaged blocks of this data to target their messaging.

The targeting that Facebook can provide -- thanks to the access it has to our data -- is superior to what was available before. This is a simple supply-and-demand equation. Facebook was connecting the supply -- coming from our willingness to surrender our personal data -- with the demand: advertisers insisting on more intrusive and personal targeting criteria. 

A market opportunity emerged, and Facebook jumped on it. The phrase “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” comes to mind.

When new and untested markets emerge, all goes well until it doesn’t. Then all hell breaks loose -- just as it did with Cambridge Analytica.  When that happens, our sense of fairness kicks in. We feel duped.  We become judgmental, but everything is done in hindsight.  This is all reaction.

We have to be reactive, because emerging markets are unpredictable. You can’t predict something like Cambridge Analytica. If it wasn’t this, it would have been something else that would have been equally unpredictable. The emerging market of data exchange virtually guaranteed that hell would eventually break loose.

As a recent  post on Gizmodo points out, “the kind of data acquisition at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is more or less standard practice for every other technology company, including places like Google and even Apple. Facebook simply had the misfortune of getting caught after playing fast and loose with who has control over their data.”

To truly move forward, we all have to ask ourselves some hard questions. This is not restricted to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. It’s symptomatic of a much bigger issue.

And we, the ground-level source of this data, will be doing ourselves a disservice in the long run by trying to isolate the blame to any one individual or company. In a very real sense, this is our problem. We are part of a market dynamic that is untested, and -- as we’ve seen -- powerful enough to subvert democracy.

Some very big changes are required in the way we treat our own data. We owe it to ourselves to be part of that process.

4 comments about "The Pillorying Of Zuckerberg".
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  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media, April 10, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    If Mark REALLY didn't know what was happening with his company's data, then he should be fired. If he and his COO keep giving out two different messages then they both should be fired.

  2. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, April 10, 2018 at 3:04 p.m.

    Oh, geez, ... yet another "we're to blame since we allowed ourselves to be screwed" scenario?  I ain't buying it.  Any valid "sense of fairness", on either side, shouldn't have to "kick in"; ... it should, by definition, ALWAYS be present.

    In short, just because a company such as FaceBook can do something doesn't mean they should.  We trusted FaceBook and they took advantage of that trust. Not being more careful with our own personal info, while not very wise, is not a crime. And attempting to dole out blame to both victim and perpetrator ain't exactly wise, either.  

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 10, 2018 at 4:25 p.m.

    Without rules comes chaos. Hell, even I predicted there were going to be problems like this and I am as far as an expert as possible.

  4. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, April 12, 2018 at 5:06 p.m.

    Nearly a dozen years ago, when my kids were in college and I refused to sign up for Facebook, my daughter said "trust me, Mom, you WILL have FaceBook one of these days." My response was "trust ME, I'm not putting my personal life in the hands of some boy genius." I've heard occasionally, from acquaintances of many years, "how come you're not on FaceBook?" Bet I won't hear that again any time soon!

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