Tech Perspective: Facebook – Should I be Scared?

By Paul Parisi, President & Founder

Finally, we may all be understanding what is surfacing in the news. Facebook is indeed a “maker of manners,” as King Henry says to Kate in the end scene of Shakespeare’s Henry V–Facebook is used to affect our reality.

As The Outer Limits intro states:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.”

So does Facebook. This is the whole point of Google and Facebook – to know you better than you know yourself and, for a handsome fee, to offer advertisers access to you. That is the equation – Facebook, Google, et al. are not web companies. They sell advertising. That is it. No matter what you think they do, they sell YOU to advertisers.

As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, so aptly said back in 2014, when talking about Google, that if you are not paying for something, “You’re not the customer. You’re the product.” The same goes for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and (insert any name here).

So what is the hip 21st century person to do? It is critical that you remember that when you use a website or app, the site is tracking EVERYTHING you do. They (Google, Facebook, etc.) don’t care specifically about you. There is no screen in some data center displaying what you are interested in, or what you have said. That would be way too much work. But there are bots (small pieces of code) that buzz through your data and make predictions on how you might think about something. Then advertisers can buy the ability to expose ads to you to reinforce or trigger off that information. This is called manipulation, and you need to be aware of to what degree this is happening.

So back to the question of what should you do. The only way to limit this exposure is to opt-out and never use these services. Yes, opt-out! Close down your accounts and never access these services (any of them) ever again. You see, it’s not really about the service having your info, it’s about how the app is used to carefully craft a world they want you to see, and, ultimately, to get you to respond in a certain way. Maybe buy something, maybe reinforce a political view, maybe change a political view. They provide “rose-colored” glasses (or whatever “color” is most effective) to manipulate your worldview. They allow an advertiser to deliver a reinforcement or challenge to your viewpoint to produce the outcome they want to occur.

Chicken Little and I were discussing this very issue just last week. (As is typical for New England, she was holed up in her bunker in northern Vermont way off the grid. You have to actually drive there and then hike in for 10 miles.) Bottomline, as she shrieked from under her bed, “This is way past ‘the sky is falling’…”.

In closing, what did you expect? Not to be too negative here, but did you really think it was all about personal, altruistic endeavors? Let me know what you think – let’s have a conversation. By the way, if you decide to stay in, we can help you stay secure even in the midst of the storms.

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