I guess by now we’re are all through with reading each and every article and opinion, every point of view and interpretation about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yes, there is an overwhelming sentiment that – in my opinion – goes into the right direction. What has happened is wrong, is to a large degree founded in an ill-directed system of data exploitation and must be stopped. On the web, you find this opinion in softer and stronger flavors, but there does not seem to be doubt that we need some decisive readjustment. Maybe the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal was the much-needed catalyst to allow for more thorough reflection where we allow ourselves to work with a healthy degree of skepticism about where technology and technological progress have led us in the last 25 years of the internet.

Now is the time to adjust after 25 years of internet disrupting our lives

  • Is the advertising business model in its current condition the right one for the internet?
  • Is it ok that we pay with personal data as digital currency to the degree observed
  • Do we want technology in each and every angle of our life all the time (or should there be some #digitaldetox refuge)?
  • Do we want more of the #gigeconomy?
  • Do we want more of the #attentioneconomy?
  • Do we want things like “snap streaks”? (check out Snapchat if this doesn’t mean anything to you)
  • Do we want more and more notifications continuously jumping into our face? (and do we want that in our kids’ faces?) (check out this great piece from Tristan Harris if you want to dive deeper into the psychological manipulation details we are exposed to)

The internet moves pretty fast. I believe every once in a while it is wise to take a short step back, look at things and reflect. You might miss an important piece. (yes, this is somehow founded in some great Ferris Bueller life advice… it does make sense to root some of your life decisions based on Ferris ;-). All joking aside, it is definitely a must we have to do when it is about technology and services that have set out with the potential to turn our lives upside down.

My blood boils on voices from within tech: “users just don’t get it!”

What in this respect makes me particularly angry is when I hear voices from inside the tech industry. Voices from people who work for exactly those kind of companies which – quite right so – get under pressure these days. Folks, aren’t you able to maintain some self-respect and ability to also have a critical stance on the things your employer stands for?

Because yes, even inside those Facebooks, Amazons, and Googles, not everything is right and righteous. Is it perhaps this thing that Google calls “googliness” that describes this difficult attitude? (I couldn’t stop laughing when friends of mine reported being rejected by Google during interviews because of a lack of googliness… smart people, but maybe too much lateral thinker type of guys).

I stumbled across these statements and I think they express neatly what I mean here:

“If we are going to blame Facebook for getting manipulated then we have a bigger problem with independent thinking. What’s wrong with this generation is blaming everyone else for their own actions?” [anonymous]

And another one:

“It’s a free platform. You are getting immense benefits in exchange for info about you. That’s been clear since Facebook first started. It does continue to amaze me the amount of grumbling and griping over something that is both free and voluntary.” [anonymous]

So this is all basically: “those stupid people complain now about data privacy when they were able to know all along that we mess with their data”. But is it really the users’ own fault that they literally stand their pants down when it comes to data privacy and super personal and sensitive data in the hands of third parties they have never heard of?

John Doe just isn’t as capable of grasping the mechanics of this complex ecosystem

I guess many users do in fact know that they reveal a load of personal data and preferences. But I think that the vast majority does not act and think like us tech workers. Not everyone is as educated when it comes to how digital business models actually work. I have serious doubts John Doe knows that it is, in fact, him who is Facebook’s product. Do tech workers inside those companies really think that everyone is fully aware of the degree of data harvesting and attention manipulation (to get even more data and attention/screen time) that is taking place? No way!

How should regular users be aware of this complex system? It goes far beyond what people believe it is. The model “Facebook” is not only about us users providing a lot of data to the industry, but – and this is where Cambridge Analytica jumped right in – companies like Facebook taking away ownership of our very data and exposing and monetizing it to 3rd parties.

Stirring in 3rd parties with wide intransparent access to users’ data is a big issue

What is a particularly problematic feature is their 3rd party (look up) platform ecosystem where users’ personal data can be harvested by developers that our Facebook contacts (and not ourselves) have given permission to. To make this even more impactful Facebook has established their ecosystem of “Login with Facebook” where it is so convenient to use this, that for some services and apps it is hard not to use it.

And then they opened these backdoors to 3rd parties who suck out our data by tricking our friends to unknowingly give permissions for that. Do you tech workers really think – again – that average John Doe understands these principles? Even if they could, it is hidden in dozens of pages of fine print and t&c’s that no one ever reads (“own fault”…). It’s just a shame. And I am not even talking about what people discover about Facebook scraping call and text message metadata on Android after they have downloaded and inspected the big zip file Facebook offers you about what they have gathered in all those years.

Another statement you often see is that “if they don’t like it why don’t they quit Facebook?”. Also not a fair viewpoint. Facebook has managed to establish a social network monopoly that has a USP in many ways people can interact with far away friends. There are countries where Facebook basically is “the internet” and there is no way to get around it. There you need to show a Facebook profile e.g. when you want to rent a place. The degree of voluntary participation is really low in such circumstances.

Tech workers – come to terms with your consciousness!

Tech workers, think twice about the practices of our industry! Being critical and applying some healthy #digitalethics and #digitalresponsibility is what we need in order not to lose consumers’ trust and faith. Don’t we want to define and go into a pleasant and sustainable digital future together? Then we need to stop the ultimate exploitation and take consumers more seriously. Isn’t it funny that it is well-renowned icons of the tech industry who are becoming more and more vocal about not wanting their kids to use the services they have helped flourish? There’s enough evidence they find their own services too creepy. And here’s more. What about the rather pathetic “eat your own dogfood” principle?

I think big tech companies could definitely use more ‘characters’ in their lines who do not define themselves by the “never quarrel with your bread and butter” principle. We need people in tech who are well founded in values of integrity and have a high degree of ethics and responsibility for our society. We are all in the process of defining, developing, pushing and selling digital services that have the potential to turn our private and business life upside down. So let’s act accordingly!

Don’t do it the Zuckerberg way

Let’s be better than Mark Zuckerberg and the way he has apparently designed his company’s business. Better than the way he has decided to treat this data privacy scandal for the last 3 years; I mean before the moment when it also got clear to him that there was no way to hide anymore. The dramatic composition went like this, didn’t it?

We need a change in mindset and turn around those learnings into a better approach to online social networking. Those services can be of great value for all of us. They just need to be done right.

What could fix the system?

Maybe it is worth a try to introduce chargeable versions that let people opt out of advertising. Didn’t the online music and online video (branded content) ecosystems start making fun – and make them really take off – once there were commercial offers with affordable prices?

And when it comes to culture and changing the broad mindset of tech work forces, maybe there is reason for hope, too. In a system that is all about acquiring and retaining the best talent, those companies could get into trouble who have a reputation to run and power a dubious system. If staff realizes that they are part of something that causes real tangible problems for our society, this could finally be the much needed lever to force them to change. But it’s not easy since it will mean to broadly regret the foundational elements of their own success.

By the way, if you do want to delete Facebook and all your data, here’s a step-by-step process.

 

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