Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children. - George Bernard Shaw
Question #91166 posted on 04/30/2018 1:17 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I suspect I'm not concerned enough about the whole recent outrage over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. I'm confused. For starters, is anyone actually surprised that our data gets passed from company to company so that marketers can better target their ads? I've always just assumed that such was the price of using internet services like Facebook and Gmail for free. Plus, literally every website I sign onto these days has a warning about using cookies, so it's not like I've gone into it with my eyes closed.

Second, I have trouble understanding why it's such a big deal if lots of companies have my contact info or a profile of my interests and preferences. What can they do with it, besides sending me unsolicited emails that Google does a pretty good job of sorting out anyway? I realize that part of the uproar is because Cambridge Analytica was using our data to individually tailor its ads. But isn't that literally what advertising has been doing for years? Hasn't that always been the job of every marketing department ever?

So here are my questions. Feel free to weigh in on whichever one(s) you like.

1) Am I misunderstanding the scandal? I'm not trying to defend Facebook's legally questionable handling of our data; I'm more concerned here with the actual fact that Cambridge Analytica and similar corporations have my personal info. Do I have all the facts right? Should I be more scared than I am?

2) This is a hard question to answer, but what limits should the government put on advertising agencies' attempts to influence their targets? I'm still trying to work out my own feelings on this, but I'm inclined to think that the onus is on us to understand and be conscious of the techniques advertisers use to psychologically manipulate us.

3) As a tangential but not entirely unrelated question, how much responsibility do you think Facebook should bear for monitoring the material shared through its site? Does it change depending on the kind of material—should it combat fake news but not remove hate speech, for example? Again, I'm not really sure where I fall on this issue, but I do have a strong sense that we can't just hand off responsibility for critically evaluating the material we encounter in our feeds to the Zuckerburg minions in Silicon Valley.

4) Any related opinions you want to share?

-She Who Must Not Be Named


A:

Dear ______ (f),

I'm sorry I've kept this over for so long. Finals happened, and then the grading of the finals happened (we TAs were stuck in several rooms from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two days. I wish I was exaggerating), and now I'm headed home for a week and well, long story short, I'm just going to go off what I've heard instead of looking up additional details, so this won't be the long, thoughtful answer you had expected from the Board. Apologies for that.

1) I think a main point of concern is that Cambridge Analytica used people's data to influence their votes, which may have cost Clinton the election. By showing certain people certain ads or articles, they may have influenced their vote and, ultimately, the election. Another worry is that so many corporations know so much about us. At first I completely agreed with you about that; people should probably have figured out that anything they put on the internet is going to haunt them. I realized that when minnow and I looked for engagement rings online a few months ago and only last week did I finally get an ad on Facebook that had nothing to do with rings. But then my friend showed me an article on the Wall Street Journal that talks about all the information these corporations can get about you from a simple pizza party. Basically, they can learn who's with you (thanks google maps), what type of pizza you ordered, how much pizza you ordered, your credit card number, your home address, (if you watched a movie) what your movie preferences are, (if you upload a photo of the pizza night) who your friends are (thanks face recognition on Facebook), when they were there, what type of device you used, your phone's battery level, etc. That was a bit shocking. Should you be more scared than you are? Eh. As horrible as I may sound, I figure, with the way our world is currently going, they're going to know all this stuff sooner or later. Maybe I shouldn't have as fatalistic an attitude as I do, but...eh. (Also my feelings have not returned since finals and grading for almost 22 hours so ask me again in a week.) 

Also it can be entertaining when they think you're something but you're not. For example, my friend showed me how to find out what info Facebook has on you (I tried to show another friend later and couldn't, so maybe play around on the settings part of Facebook and you'll find it?), and it says I'm super conservative. Which makes sense because most of my friends are from my mission in the South or are Mormon, both of which tend to be conservative, but HAHAHA FACEBOOK YOU FAILED BECAUSE I'M ACTUALLY (moderately) LIBERAL. 

2) All I can think of now is how cool a social experiment this is and how we should continue to manipulate people's opinions and see if it does have an impact. If someone's friends like an article, are they more likely to read it? What percentage of friends needs to like it before they read it? Will that really influence their decision? Can we track the articles and ads they get on Facebook and how/if they vote? Can we use Facebook to increase people's interest and participation in local and state elections? 

(If you can't tell, I just finished a state and local politics class which dealt a lot with experimentation. Obviously my brain didn't take the final as a sign to forget everything it just learned. Something is very wrong...)

3) There's actually a law that says websites can't be punished for what 3rd party people write or do on their sites. Which makes sense, because honestly I don't think Facebook is or should be responsible for hate speech. If they've made it clear that their purpose is just to allow people a site to share their opinions, I get that they wouldn't be held responsible. Unfortunately, some companies (such as Backpage) have used this law as an excuse to plead ignorance of the human and sex trafficking that occurs on their website. (Watch the documentary "I Am Jane Doe." You can find it on Netflix. So sad but so well done.) I think a law just passed though that holds companies responsible for sex trafficking that occurs on their sites. (Here's an article on it; it did just pass!) 

4) Um. The future is now? Imagine what will happen when we get to a point when these ads can sense what we're craving even before we know it. ("Ahh, guppy had a board meeting this Tuesday. Whenever Bob attends those meetings, guppy always orders a Hawaiian pizza with extra pineapple afterwards. According to Bob's schedule he'll be at the meeting, so let's put an ad on guppy's Facebook for deep dish Hawaiian pizza with loads of extra pineapple!")

Also this has nothing to do with anything but it's hilarious and everyone should watch it.

-guppy of doom