Softball with Zuckerberg: When Being the “Smartest Guy in the Room” is a Global Disaster

Reflecting on the Zuckerberg testimony from yesterday, the biggest take away from the joint hearing between the Judiciary Committee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is that no one sitting on either committee has a clue about what Facebook is, what Facebook does, and the only person in the equation that has the ability to ask a legitimate question on Facebook is Zuckerberg himself. And he’s picking answers off a sheet of paper that gives little insight, clarification, or does anything but market Facebook as a dorm room startup that made some mistakes and will do better in the future, and just consider all the good that it can do.

Literally, no one in that chamber has a clue what to ask, how to ask it, and it wouldn’t matter if they did. It’s a farce. Watch a video about nailing Jell-O to a tree, or go do it yourself, you’ll get the same kind of insights into Facebook and data privacy as you would get from watching the Senate hearing.

Just a few questions that needed to be asked and honestly, genuinely, and succinctly answered regarding Facebook, the data users share, their role as moderators of an online community, and the implications that Facebook has in the lives of their billions of users: Continue reading “Softball with Zuckerberg: When Being the “Smartest Guy in the Room” is a Global Disaster”

Stop Blaming Christopher Wylie: The Oven isn’t the Problem

Many people are missing the point, Christopher Wylie’s whistleblowing—and that it occurred after the election—is the proverbial equivalent of J. P. Oppenheimer’s reflection on the detonation of the first atomic bomb, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Bhagavad Gita. Essentially you’re asking for Wylie to have known, before the election, the complete picture of what was going on, how the data and the algorithms applied to that data, was going to influence the election. Seeing users call him a “traitor” for his role in the election of Donald Trump, and the damage to LGBT advances, as a result, is ludicrous.

To make him the scapegoat for the Donald Trump presidency and subsequent problems that has created is to say that Wylie should have been able to take one theoretical use case from start to finish and see it’s ultimate outcome. Which is hardly fair, hardly critical, and is frankly only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the way that the data and applied algorithms could be used. Just as easily it could have been applied to secure marriage equality, change the way the public views PREP, reduce HIV infection and promote testing to curb the epidemic, is one of the many, many possible uses of such data. That it could be used to elect a president, one so horrible for LGBT rights is only one horrible use case.

All of which comes to a point, the theoretical applications of this are limitless, and you’re choosing to attack him for, effectively, being naive about the reality of what he was doing and the power that it would allow political campaigns to exert.

Instead of seeing that it was a multipronged problem—social media usage has inherent vulnerabilities in how user data is made available to companies, the lack of care or consideration that companies may exhibit in their use and storage of that data, and the carelessness that we have as social media users in understanding just what we are agreeing to as we take quizzes, play games, and get free stuff. Which is not to mention the overarching problem of social media platforms in which the data you are sharing isn’t just your own, but also the data of everyone you are associated with. That—as I don’t know anyone on social media who haven’t taken a quiz, played a game, or otherwise used an app—you are ultimately consenting on behalf of everyone you are associated with to making their data, as well as your own, part of an ever-growing database. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, your friend’s mom has done it, and we are, in effect, “frenemies” with everyone we’re attached to on social media platforms.

Yeah, that personality test was fun. Yeah, that farming game is great. Yeah, that birthday reminder is helpful. But, with that cool free thing came a cost. The opportunity for a business, like Cambridge Analytica, to access and exploit every one of your online friends for profit. We did this to ourselves, we allowed this to happen, we exchanged our data, and the data of our friends and families, like Hansel and Gretel chowing down at the witch’s table. Instead of blaming the witch and acknowledging our role in getting into the situation, taking our own responsibility, we’re blaming the oven?