The facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal raises some important questions about the use and security of user’s data, and the operating practices of such companies. The scandal is not so-much that there had been a “breach” but rather that users data had been shared as part of facebook’s business model. It is a model that relies value provided by the data that facebook’s users share. This data, it turns out, is not only of value to advertisers, but as it turns out, political analysts and campaign consultants.
Arguably, this situation has developed because facebook is a form of what’s been termed ‘platform capitalism’. [See Nick Srnicek’s Platform Capitalism for more information]
‘With a long decline in manufacturing profitability, capitalism has turned to data as one way to maintain economic growth and vitality in the face of a struggling production sector.’ (p6)
Platforms as data engines
This is where platforms come in. If data has become a massive new raw material for capitalism, then platforms are the engines that allow it to process this data
Given that such platforms need data as the basis of their product that they use to turn into a profit, techniques developed at places such as Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab are used to the develop and refine these platforms so that people enjoy sharing their data, photos, comments, ‘likes’, etc and receiving positive feedback. This “quantifiable social endorsement” (Sherman, et al, 2018) reinforces data-sharing behaviour, and increases the likelihood that people will continue to provide data to such platforms.
Like all many new technological developments, ethics seems to be the caboose on the end of the train, never able to get ahead and steer the developments powered by new scientific and technological discovery and exploration. Continue reading