Should The FB *Model* Be Illegal?

Do you want Zuck in your brain? What if “breaking it up” just isn’t enough?

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

The incredible levels of media froth around FB these days is dancing around a fundamental question, a question we need to answer before anybody can offer anything that even approximates real data security, privacy, or control of our personal data.

Way beyond the issue around being a monopoly or not, the fundamental question is:

Should the FB model even be legal?

It is the tacit question behind the whole idea of breaking them up. It’s a big question. Let’s add some context just to get some perspective on it.

Author’s note: I am not advocating a position here, just hoping to open up a dialog. “Breaking up” is a nice term that obfuscates the reality behind it. Again: should what FB is doing be legal?

Later note: OK, during the writing of this piece my bias did swing towards the “no, this shouldn’t be legal” side of the question.

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

The story so far…

The FB model simply couldn’t have existed much before now, that’s clear to everyone. The implication of that, though, is that we’re all babes in the woods when it comes to understanding the power of the data we generate and, certainly, when FB started we had even less clue.

FB exists because of a confluence of factors that include

  • Technology
  • Mobility (diifferent than tech in that it’s what makes the tech so personal)
  • Law and its inability to keep up
  • Neuroscience, specifically the understanding of addiction
  • Politics
  • Money
  • The unforeseen power of the data

All converging in an environment of increasing change and a huge increase in the pace of change, so that social norms and the legal system were and are unable to keep up, and our ability to internalize — to understand — the changes radically reduced, if not shut down entirely.

The evolving model

If the original business was the simple one Zuck claims, then its original business model must have revolved around filling that need well — allowing people to connect, create a “town square” in which people could connect with one another.

The business model is far different now. If there is anyone out there who would argue with this thinking, I’d love to hear the reasoning.

What we have now is a behemoth of a company with reach into almost every aspect of our lives, the ability to affect global politics on a trans-sovereign scale, a continuing ability to gather enormous data sets across wide swaths of the global population, combined with a unique ability to individually reach every one of their 3 BILLION users. And reach them with messages founded on uncanny insight into their lives and preferences and histories, giving Zuck a huge and invisible lever with global reach and unpredictable outcomes.

And just to add some whipped cream on that cappuccino, they made it addictive, and continue to do so. They chose to make it as addictive as they could. They knew how to do that, at least in part, due to the then new science of addiction. They understood just how to activate it to their benefit.

I believe this may make FB the first company to consciously use this understanding for commercial gain. As an addict, I have some concerns about this. But I digress.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Today’s view

What is Zuck’s FB today? Behemoth barely begins to describe it. If data is the new oil, FB is not the new Standard Oil. Standard Oil just sucked goo out of the ground. FB is something new. Sticking with the oil analogy, they are Standard Oil and the dinosaurs that made the oil, and the 10M years it took the oil to form and all the rest all the way to global warming.

They are the purveyor and the generator of the new oil. And, let’s be clear; that new oil comes from US — every one of their 2 BILLION…subscribers?…users?…victims?…digital serfs?

And, to be fair, they also provide an incredible good in a lot of places. Their core business, their core business model is about connecting people, which is great. And they continue to provide that service really well. Worldwide there are likely millions of people who’s lives depend on them or are improved by them every day. No dispute there.

And, in the process of their growth something…less good, something foreign to their core business…seems to have happened. Somewhere during their growth years, they got addicted to data. Lots and lots of it. They seem pretty addicted now, to the point that they say it’s core to their business.

And I know Zuck has argued before that collecting the kind of wide-ranging data he currently does makes their social platform better. “Better.” An interesting term that somehow never got defined. How? For whom? FB looks pretty much like it did 3 years ago; what’s “better”?

It has never been clear (to me at least) why they are doing this. It’s beyond greed at this point. I’m pretty sure that even Zuck doesn’t even really know, or that anyone even could.

That’s the point.

Large quantities of data, just like oil, is powerful. Unimaginably powerful.
Within the question of whether it should be legal to run this kind of model is a narrower one that is important because it’s one we could address tomorrow: Is Zuck the guy we want, today, to have this kind of power? Again, I’m not promoting an agenda here, just trying to open this subject for debate. Because I see how Zuck and co. act now and I hear what they’re planning and, frankly, we all have reason to question whether this is something we want to allow to proceed.

And let’s be clear about the scope of data they collect. FB is everywhere. There are tons of ad and cookie trackers out there; put one on your browser, just for a day or two, and watch how many FB trackers you see. Ever log on to a website using your FB login? Use FB apps on your phone? Use their messenger service? The question isn’t if we all provide them data; the question is only how much?

They collect so much data that I am pretty sure no one has any idea how much it is, what it is, or where it’s all stored. I’d love to see anyone at FB answer these three simple questions:

  • How much data have you collected in the past 24 hours?
  • Where is it right now?
  • What’s the plan for it?

Why? Why do they need this? What is its intended use? I am pretty sure that no one at FB knows. They’re data junkies. More is always better.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

FBs Future? Zuck in your brain?

Last year FB released its first piece of hardware, Portal, an in-home screen-speaker that is always listening and always watching. Sales? No one knows for sure and, apparently, not so good. We seem to be worried about having Zuck in our living rooms.

What about our brains?

Mark Zuckerberg is planning on listening directly to our brains. Is that something we want?

The reaction to Portal, according to Vox, has been “somewhere between hesitation and revulsion.”

If we’re feeling unsure about having FB in our living rooms, how do we feel about having them in our brains?

I really want to talk about the benefits of the Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology here, because they are vast. And all of that is tainted by the fact that FB is anywhere close to it.

And, perhaps this is one of the huge downsides of having a company like this in our midst: anything…anything they do in the future that, like BCI, has any measure of good whatsoever will be so tainted by their participation as to drain any goodness out of it almost completely.

Imagine that choice as a parent: give your child life-saving technology that also removes their ability to even have private thoughts without them going to FB. It sounds like a digital Sophie’s Choice.

Which leads us back to the original question: should what FB doing right now be legal? And, should what they are planning on doing be legal?

Let’s talk. Please let’s talk.

Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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