Monday, June 18, 2018

a little piece at Slate on the three major forms of surveillance Facebook does

Facebook is the most pervasive surveillance system in the history of the world. More than 2 billion people and millions of organizations, companies, and political movements offer up detailed accounts of passions, preferences, predilections, and plans to one commercial service. In addition, Facebook tracks all of the connections and interactions among these people and groups, predicting future connections and guiding future interactions. It even compiles contact information on those who do not have a Facebook account.

Facebook exposes us to three major forms of surveillance. We might think of them as three perches or viewpoints. Commercial and political entities are able to exploit the targeting and predictive power of Facebook through its advertising system. Through what we reveal on our profiles, other Facebook users can watch and track us as we build or break relationships with others, move around, recommend and comment on various posts, and express our opinions and preferences. And governments use Facebook to spy on citizens or anyone they consider suspicious, either by establishing Facebook accounts that appear to be those of friends or allies or by breaking through Facebook security to gather data directly.
Facebook itself conducts commercial surveillance of its users on behalf of its advertising clients. Facebook has no incentive to offer any third-party access to the data that it uses to drive user-generated posts and direct advertisements. The commercial value of Facebook lies in its complete control of this priceless account of human behavior. But the interface that Facebook provides to both advertisers and those who run Facebook pages allows them to learn significant amounts about their audiences in general and track the level of response their posts and advertisements generate. To profile users for precise targeting, Facebook uses much of the data that users offer: biographical data, records of interactions with others, the text of their posts, location (through Facebook apps on mobile phones equipped with GPS features), and the “social graph”—a map of the relationships among items on Facebook (photos, videos, news stories, advertisements, groups, pages, and the profiles of its 2.2 billion users).
The chief danger from the Facebook commercial surveillance system lies in the concentration of power. No other company in the world—with the possible exception of Google—can even consider building a set of personalized dossiers as rich as Facebook’s. These data reinforce Facebook’s commercial dominance in the advertising business (again, mostly shared with Google, which has different ways of tracking and targeting content and advertising but generates many of the same risks and problems). The very fact that we cannot expect another digital media company to generate that much data from that many people and that many interactions means that—barring strong regulation—serious competitors to Facebook will be rare or nonexistent in the near future.

But there are other dangers that come with Facebook having and holding all of this information on us. They come from the two other surveillance positions: peers and states. Many common behaviors of Facebook friends sever our images or information from our control, regardless of how careful any individual is with privacy settings. Other Facebook users can act maliciously, especially when relationships degrade. And other Facebook users might be more promiscuous in their habits of tagging photographs of people who would rather not be identified beyond a tight circle of known friends.

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