The news that Facebook was letting Netflix and Spotify read private messages is not surprising to me. Nor should it be to anyone else. So glad it is happening though. Because people are starting to talk seriously about Privacy in the digital age. Maybe we all had to feel violated to do so, but this societal conversation is at least 10 years overdue. This is going to get worse before it gets better. Here is why.
New Tech Unregulated
Facebook has only been around 14 years. It was adopted by society long before adequate time to debate and implement regulation was possible. One of the things our country is not good at is reacting to technological and societal change at a necessary speed. Sales tax is a good example. Billions and billions spent by consumers before the issue of sales tax was even pondered. Business moves fast and government does not. So when tech started booming data started being passed in huge volumes to many places on networks and infrastructure with unknown holes and nobody looking. Look at the constant data hacks even today. The money is huge and government slow. That is how we get to 2018. Look at the size and breadth of Amazon. Everyone and everything seems compromised and it is just now a conversation. The euphoria of likes and selfies, and the money overruled common sense and discipline. It was all put it off for another decade.
The Product is Your Thoughts
Facebook does not offer anything special. From a product standpoint. It was the first and best social media platform to be universally adopted. So what they offer to you the user is the fact that most people you know use it. Are there thousands of other ways you can self aggrandize and feed the ego through likes, posts, and meet new people? Keep in touch with friends and relatives? Spread love and charity? Get your opinion out there? Yes. But Facebook was easy. Do you go to the known huge party or try to throw your own by telling one person at a time how fun you are? So where did that leave Facebook once they went public and beholden to ruthless shareholders? The point is Facebook’s long term product always was, and always will be, the inside of your head. All they offer is the huge amount of data they take in. Nothing else. So the fact that Mark and Sheryl don’t give a damn about your privacy is their best business model. Without that they don’t make money they just bring people together for the sake of improving humanity.
Naivety to What Could Happen
I always love the occasional Silicon Valley worker who has regrets about what they created and some people are using tech for spreading evil and danger. But they are going to fix it! LOL! Prevent badness and misuse of their creation! Throw some arrogance on top of the naive. If you truly get the First Amendment you know this is wrong. You probably also know that censorship is dangerous if it is allowed to begin at all. It is the intrinsic good of human nature that prevails over time. Not censorship. So with the advance of the Internet anybody anywhere was going to be able to talk to anyone about anything they want. As with any human invention there is going to be bad actors using the invention. To lie, cheat, misinform, scare, steal, manipulate, and everything else you can think of. But has the internet and the “pipes” been good for humanity overall? Of course it has. Did we ban the phone cause thieves could take to each other? Did we regulate cars because violent people can go wherever they want in packs? This is part of the deal. The freedom deal. Evil people are going to use the Internet. Don’t worry about it. In the same sense, people like Mark Zuckerberg were always going to use your data to make money. Without your permission. Also part of this deal. That is how I see it anyway. This is only the beginning of stories like this. Get used to it. It will take a long time for the pipes and these companies to be adequately regulated.
That Specific Sliver of Time
I graduated college in 2000. Facebook was founded in 2004. During my teens and twenties technology leaps were fascinating. I remember driving to see my brother at Cornell with driving directions printed out. I had never felt more free and fascinated with something. During college mobile phones became ubiquitous for the first time and could fit in your pocket. Then texting was added. When Facebook came out I was still living a pretty spirited life and still in my 20’s. But I had developed all my relationships coming up the old fashioned way. Face to face and by telephone. So putting pictures up on the Internet forever I was always skeptical about. It always felt reckless in some ways. People my age were the one slice to live as children in the pre-internet world, come of age while personal tech exploded, and then live in the current world. A world where our children have known nothing but screens since inception. That slice has a valuable perspective. Sometimes I think we are the only ones who think of this privacy issue in this way. It is important and almost entirely unaddressed at this point. It should be a little scary to you.