Important: This writing is based on my understanding of Mark Zuckerberg testimony to the Congress over data misuse by Cambridge Analytica. It means that he can say some misleading things to hide on how Facebook actually work.
When I plan to sleep yesterday, I accidentally saw Washington Post channel going live on youtube. Normally, it’s not that interesting. But it’s different yesterday because Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg is doing testimony in front of the Congress.
Honestly, it is pain to watch it because it takes too long and I want to sleep. But it’s also an interesting topic to listen and it also involves all of us, its user.
So based on what he said in his testimony yesterday, I have to say I disagree with what most people think about Facebook.
It is true and I agree with the news said that the way Facebook business works is to display targeted ads to the customer. However, what I have to disagree is that Facebook sells customer data to the advertiser.
However, even if I say that I disagree, it’s not a fake or false news. Technically Facebook is selling the data to advertisers, but not in the way that most people think.
Let me explain this further.
Suppose I’m an advertiser that want to display ads on Facebook. And of course, just like any advertiser, I want my ads to be relevant to the people.
So, what I do is to tell Facebook I want my ads to be displayed to the people that fit my description. It is obvious and logical move because those people are relevant to my product and more likely to buy my product.
However, what most people don’t understand correctly is that I don’t receive the list of people that match with my description. Facebook didn’t hand me any data so I can target it my self. I told facebook what I want, what kind of people, etc and then they’ll do it for me.
[Advertiser] -> [Order Facebook to display my ads for this specific type of people] -> [Facebook will find users that match with the description] -> [Display to that users]
In a way, it’s like tinder. But rather than matching people with people, it’s matching people with ads.
Technically, this is still what people call selling our data to advertisers. But Facebook is not actually handing any of our data to the advertisers.
So, what about Cambridge Analytica?
Basically, they don’t get their data from advertisers. They get their data from 3rd party developer.
Also, it’s not a data breach. Rather, it’s data misuse.
Remember the quiz you take on Facebook. That’s where they got your data. Each time you allow third party app to access your account, like it or not, Facebook has to give your data. It’s the way it works.
Basically, it’s like if you want people to call you with your name, you have to give your name. If you want people to call you, you have to give your phone number. But, in doing so, people will know your phone number.
It’s obvious. It makes sense. But, most people don’t understand that in context of third-party developers.
Just like my last example, if a third-party developer needs to know who you are, they need your profile data. They need to know your name so they can call you and know who you are. If they need to know your friends so they can connect you with your friends in the third-party apps, they need to get your friends connections.
Simple right. However, the problem with this is a naive approach. This could be work assuming that third-party developer only uses your data for their apps to work.
In case of Cambridge Analytica, they received your data using these third-party apps, and then using it for other means. That is where this problem lies. It’s not data breach because Cambridge Analytica is not stealing or hacking. They get your data using legit way.
What they did wrong is that they are collecting your data, analyse it, and then use it for political reason.
It’s not easy problems, but I’m thinking several reasons to prevent this in the future.
For the user:
- Stop using third-party apps on Facebook or at least use only third-party developers that you can trust.
- Only share information that you can share in public. Facebook or any other social media is public space. Any information you share on Facebook is public. Next time you want to put something, ask yourself, “is it okay for people to know about this?”
- Stop completely sharing data with third-party developers. This might make Facebook boring because there will be no more quiz apps. But it’s safer for everyone.
- Or, have tiered level of data sharing. Don’t share all users data just because third-party developers ask for it. Only share it if their level of trust is meet the requirements of data they asked for. If not then they shouldn’t be allowed to get that data. This might require third-party developer verification process or something.
It’s a lesson for us
For me, this accident is a lesson for us to be careful and stay safe on the internet. I know the internet can be a trivial place.
But, just like any other place, some bad people might be lurking around to take advantages of situation and could harm you.