I am not remotely surprised that they harvest information and sell it on
You may have noticed that the Guardian website has of late carried a great deal about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, none of which I have read. (The Guardian is about the only fully accessible online newspaper left in the UK, for which we should be grateful. That is why I link to it rather a lot.) The whole affair is hard to ignore, however, and has led the television news too. Dr Damian Thompson has a piece in the Sun which tells you everything you really need to know about the matter.
While I sympathise with the call to delete Facebook, I won’t be doing so myself, but I would like to explain why. First of all, Facebook is a good way to advertise whatever I write and also to advertise other articles that I think are worth reading. It is a useful internet platform. (So, for that matter is Twitter.)
Secondly, Facebook provides my parish with a useful website on which I can post things, and parishioners can post things and comment on them too. It acts as a virtual noticeboard, as does Twitter, which is very useful, and which complements our parish newsletter.
Thirdly, while it is true that Facebook uses the information it gleans from my use, this does not bother me. I am not remotely surprised that they harvest information and sell it on. Facebook is not a charity, it is essentially an advertising venture. Incidentally, its advertising is pretty hopeless, to my mind. I usually ignore the ads, but when I do notice them it is because they are trying to sell me stuff that I have already bought – in other words using evidence of my internet searches to dangle similar stuff in front of me. This is pretty silly, as I generally do not buy the same thing twice. If they could anticipate future searches, that would be clever, but they clearly have not yet worked out how to do this.
Facebook adverts and its use of data are a bit like the ads on ITV. I watch programmes on ITV and Channel 4, but I go out of the room when the ads are on. I have never bought anything I have seen advertised on the telly, and I hope I never will. As for the data about me that Facebook harvests, I try to make sure that I only put on Facebook things that I am happy to have shared in the public forum. After all, that is what it is, a public forum.
Why is the Guardian so exercised by this matter? Part of the answer lies in the fact that Mark Zuckerberg has until now been achingly right on about every left-wing cause – gay marriage, the Democratic Party, you name it, Zuckerberg and Facebook were there. Now it turns out the Mark and his mates were making the Trump victory possible and enabling the Leave victory in the referendum. Not so “progressive”, eh? But what did you expect? This is what advertisers do: they research the market and they go after clients who can pay. Their right-on credentials are usually just another example of branding.
So, I will continue using Facebook, but without any illusions. I find it useful. It is useful. That anyone ever had any illusions about it strikes me as extraordinary.