Then Why Is Anyone STILL on Facebook?

Wolf Street–Things at Facebook came to a head, following the disclosure that personal data from 50 million of its users had been given to a sordid outfit in the UK, Cambridge Analytica, whose business model is to manipulate elections by hook or crook around the world, and which is now getting vivisected by UK and US authorities.

The infamous “person familiar with the matter” told Bloomberg that the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into whether Facebook violated a consent decree dating back to 2011, when Facebook settled similar allegations – giving user data to third parties without user’s knowledge or consent. Bloomberg:

Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time.

If Facebook is found to be in violation of the consent decree, the FTC can extract a fine of $40,000 per day, per violation. Given the 50 million victims spread over so many days, this could be some real money, so to speak.

Facebook said in a statement, cited by Bloomberg, that it rejected “any suggestion of violation of the consent decree.” It also said with tone-deaf Facebook hilarity, “Privacy and data protections are fundamental to every decision we make.”

That Facebook is collecting every little bit of personal data it can from its users and their contacts and how they react to certain things, their preferences, their choices, physical appearance – photos, I mean come on  – clues about their personalities, and the like has been known from day one. That’s part of its business model. It’s not a secret.

That third parties have access to this data has also been known at least since 2011. Advertisers also have had access to certain types of data to target their ads.

And yet, Facebook’s user base has grown. More than ever, people put their entire lives on Facebook – maybe not the kids, as they’ve become enamored with other platforms, but their moms. Babies are on Facebook long before they have any idea what Facebook is. There’s a generation growing up that has been on Facebook since birth.

When the Equifax hack occurred last year – which Equifax disclosed graciously and partially months after the fact on September 7 – the personal data of what has now grown to 145.5 million consumers was stolen. This included names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, and “in some instances,” driver’s license numbers, and other data.

This shocked the world that pays attention to this because the data breach could unleash a tsunami of identity theft. But most consumers who saw it in the media simply shrugged and went on. They could have put a credit freeze on their accounts with the credit bureaus, thus making it nearly impossible for someone else to get a loan or credit card in their name (identity theft). But few consumers put a credit freeze on their accounts. Many consumers still don’t know what Equifax is or what it does, and when you discuss the situation, they think you’re spouting off conspiracy theories.

But there is a difference between credit bureaus such as Equifax and social media platforms such as Facebook.

With credit bureaus, consumers have no choice. They’re forced to be part of the credit-bureau data bases. Their data is collected, and there is nothing they can do about it. Consumer protection should be the number one priority. When companies get hacked and this consumer data gets stolen, there should be harsh punishments against these companies if they’re found to have been negligent. Arthur Andersen comes to mind.

But with Facebook and other social media platforms, there is no coercion. Consumers submit their most private data voluntarily – nay, eagerly. They jump through hoops to share this stuff with the rest of the world. So maybe they only want to share it with x and not with y, but heck, they’re uploading it to the Internet. What do they expect?

And there is another difference between Equifax and Facebook: Equifax was hacked and the data was stolen. Facebook gave away the data as part of its business model.

But they do have a major trait in common: An aggrieved consumer cannot delete the data these outfits have collected on that consumer. While Facebook allows you to “delete” items and “delete” your account, the data stays behind on the server. It’s available for all purposes; it’s just not publicly viewable.

So now there’s a hue and cry in the media about Facebook, put together by reporters who are still active on Facebook and who have no intention of quitting Facebook. There has been no panicked rush to “delete” accounts. There has been no massive movement to quit Facebook forever. Facebook does what it does because it does it, and because it’s so powerful that it can do it. A whole ecosystem around it depends on the consumer data it collects.

Yes, there will be the usual ceremonies that Equifax also went through: CEO Zuckerberg may get to address the Judiciary Committee in Congress. The questions thrown at him for public consumption will be pointed. But behind the scenes, away from the cameras, there will be the usual backslapping between lawmakers and corporations. Publicly, there will be some wrist-slapping and some lawsuits, and all this will be settled and squared away in due time. Life will go on. Facebook will continue to collect the data because consumers continue to surrender their data to Facebook voluntarily. And third parties will continue to have access to this data.

With Facebook, consumers are in total control: They can just refuse to open an account. And if they have already opened an account, they can delete the app on their mobile devices, clean the cache on their computers, and swear to not ever again sign back in. If enough consumers do that, the whole construct would come down.

The only act that would change anything is if consumers massively and forever abandon Facebook and platforms like it, and never-ever sign on again. That would bulldoze the whole problem away. But that’s not going to happen because consumers don’t want it to happen.

So as far as I’m concerned, people who are still active on Facebook cannot be helped. They should just enjoy the benefits of having their lives exposed to the world and serving as a worthy tool and resource for corporate interests, political shenanigans, election manipulators, jealous exes, and other facts of life.

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