Thursday, March 29, 2018

Is Facebook A Frankenstein?

The Frankenstein monster was an unintended consequence.  The intent of his creator was to make humans immortal.  One could say the same thing about Einstein's discoveries that led to the atomic bomb.  Facebook may also be a potential Frankenstein.  It was developed at Harvard so that students could learn more about other students that might be dating material.  It quickly spread from Harvard to other colleges.  Today it is a business provides free services to users so that Facebook can turn the information, that users provide with every click, into information that makes it easier for advertisers to target the ads that they place on Facebook. That is what Facebook's business is all about.  Providing a free service to users produced $20 billion of net revenue to Facebook.  That has been good for Facebook but it may not be good for its users or for society.

Facebook understands that it may have violated individual privacy rights by selling information about you to potential advertisers.  It has a hard time dealing with a different problem: it has created a monster that is harmful to society.  In a sense, Facebook and other social media, which have a similar business model, have been harmful to the democratic process as well.  It has been used to suppress voting by minorities in our recent elections, and it has provided an inexpensive way to distribute fake information to potential voters whose clicks on Facebook are used to target them. 

Facebook claims that it is taking actions to protect the privacy rights of its users. This flies in the face of its business model.  It is in the business of selling user data to advertisers.  Actions that it takes to restrict access to user data makes it less attractive to advertisers.  Actions that it might take to limit disinformation programs runs against its defense of freedom of expression.  Facebook does not want to devote the resources that would be required so that it can behave like our major media which have to protect their reputation for being honest brokers of information.  It is being used as weapon by autocrats use it in surveillance and as a disinformation tool.

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