Today, Facebook has its 15th birthday. Founded by Zuckerberg back in 2004, the behemoth survives, although the waters are rightfully becoming choppier around it as each year passes.
Shosanna Zuboff’s new book ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’ was released at the end of last week. I’ve only had time to make it through the first 100 pages (of the 600+) so far and already the narrative is compelling enough to justify the book’s inclusion in my ‘must reads’ of 2019.
It’s so easy for us to simply assume that we can’t benefit from the advantages of modern technology unless we willingly accept the Faustian bargain of the surrender of all of our private information in return. Yet, the fact that this has become the de facto standard transaction in the modern digital world is not, and never was, an inevitability. It’s simply become the expected way of doing things because a handful of firms discovered that if they packaged up predictions about the behaviour of their users to sell to advertisers, they ended up with rocket fuel that then powered their growth at a velocity that no government or regulator could possibly catch.
It’s fascinating to hear Sheryl Sandberg being described as the Typhoid Mary of the modern digital age, after being hired as COO of Facebook from Google in 200, bringing with her a unwavering focus on introducing targeted advertising onto a platform at Facebook that was until that point unprofitable.
Facebook’s history has been littered with a litany of assaults on individual privacy – from its 2007 Beacon advertising system which made people’s purchases public on their friends’ feeds without consent – to Zuckerberg’s chilling statement that ‘privacy is no longer a social norm’ (resulting in a new world that was, not coincidentally, significantly more profitable for them) – and the car crash 2018’s Cambridge Analytica scandal (where a third party got unauthorised access to 87 million users’ personal data).
It’s impossible to believe that these will be the final scandals to be played out on the battlefield to learn more about us as individuals in order to ensure that the ‘correct’ (highest paying) companies can ensure that they get their most lucrative goods and services directly in the paths of our daily lives at the precise moments when we are most susceptible to purchasing them.
Facebook has had a pretty much free run of 15 years. Let’s hope that people are now starting to realise for real just how dangerous the implications could be. As Zuboff writes, it’s not an ideological battle. Facebook – and other large tech companies with their constant tracking and surveillance – are all too accurately taking away our right as individuals to a ‘future tense’. In other words, the right to freely make our own decisions that will determine our own futures.
Let’s hope for all our sakes that in 15 years, we’re not celebrating Facebook hitting 30 years old.