This week’s biggest revelation is: Your pointless Facebook status messages (“Bliss is having Thayir Vadai at A2B.” ) may not be exactly that pointless. There are apparently top-notch technology companies that are ready to — to use a very dignified phrase — give plenty of sh** to your tedious posts.
We are of course talking about Cambridge Analytica the company that now stands accused of harvesting data from Facebook users. What we know of the scandal as of now is: England-based Cambridge Analytica unauthorisedly used personal information of around 50 million Facebook users and helped Donald Trump to overcome the enormous obstacle that he is actually Donald Trump and win the American Presidential election.
According to a whistle-blower, Cambridge Analytica used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements, such as whoever votes for Donald Trump would get the ownership of Trump Tower. At least that is what we feel the ads need to have promised to convince anyone to go out and vote for Trump.
Anyway, the fallout to the scandal has been swift. Facebook, as befits a modern-day responsible corporate with a social commitment, responded to the crisis by issuing a strong press release. Facebook also suspended Cambridge Analytica from using its platform, which, for all practical purposes, means Cambridge Analytica can no longer share gifs of cats with its friends.
Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind Facebook, in interviews, has taken the nuanced position that school boys across generations have generally taken, namely, “he only did it, not me, miss”. It would have been better if he had actually said, “he only did it, not me, miss”. But your modern-day corporate honchos cannot speak a sentence without you immediately getting the urge to punch them on their mouths. “I don’t know that it’s possible to know every issue that you’re going to face down the road. But we have a real responsibility to take all these issues seriously as they come up, and work with experts and people around the world to make sure we solve them,” is what Zuckerberg said. Basically, when the going gets tough, your corporate heavyweights get tough with bullshit.
Cambridge Analytica, for its part, moved in swiftly and suspended its CEO Alexander Nix, who probably suffered seizures due to excessive laughing at the action taken against him.
Anyway, the controversy raises many questions, chief of which is how is this is a controversy at all. The thing is what were people expecting from Facebook. Did they really believe that Facebook was just in the business of reminding us of the birthdays of our family members and friends? (But I will accept that this is a major service, and helps many a forgetful husband save his marriage). Probably, there are also people who think that choosing personalities or events for ‘Google Doodle’ is be the main focus area of Google.
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga has an Indian angle, too. Cambridge Analytica’s has an Indian subsidiary by the name Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI) and it reportedly worked with some political parties during a few election campaigns. The parties that sought the expertise of OBI were the BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal (United). In the case of the Janata Dal (United), the business intelligence that the company must have provided was to reveal to the electorate that there still exists a party named Janata Dal (United).
Quite frankly, while data breach is indeed a serious issue, I, however, don’t get how personal status messages and choices become ‘data’ that will help companies devise strategies for political parties to specifically target their campaign at me. American media, still unable to comprehend how Trump managed to end up as the President, may give credence to such snake-oil strategies. But howsoever smart and intuitive the algorithm could have been, how could it ever masquerade the fact that Donald Trump stands for Donald Trump. If there is a bigger shame than Donald Trump then it has to be the big data and social media firms.
Anyway, the question that is ringing in many people’s mind now is: How to stop companies from spying on personal details and preferences that people share on social media platforms. Thankfully, there is a simple 3-step solution to the problem:
- Right click on the social media app on your Android phone
- Choose the option: delete.
- For further safety, stay offline totally.
Don’t thank me. I am only keeping my job as a print journalist.