Facebook’s Power Over Our Data – Who Would You Prefer To Have It?


Ellie May O’Hagan makes what she thinks is an entirely uncontroversial statement. One that should in fact set us all thinking because it’s is in fact highly controversial. Sure, Facebook – and others – have vast amounts of data on and about us. Given the technological stage we’re at right now someone, somewhere, is going to have that information. So, who do we want to have it and who do we want to control said data?

The revelation that Cambridge Analytica exploited the data of 50 million Facebook profiles to target American voters is indeed frightening. But Cambridge Analytica shouldn’t act as a diversion from the real bad guy in this story: Facebook. It is mystifying that as his company regulates the flow of information to billions of human beings, encouraging certain purchasing habits and opinions, and monitoring people’s interactions, Mark Zuckerberg is invited to give lectures at Harvard without being treated with due scepticism.

We have now reached the point where an unaccountable private corporation is holding detailed data on over a quarter of the world’s population. Zuckerberg and his company have been avoiding responsibility for some time. Governments everywhere need to get serious in how they deal with Facebook.

Let’s just start from the reality of our universe. We’re at this stage of digitisation that someone, somewhere, is going to have this information given how much we like using the various digital platforms. OK.

So, who do we want to have the power over that information? Ellie is obviously insistent that people engaged in the accumulation of mere filthy lucre shouldn’t be those people. At least not as the ultimate arbiter of what is done with it.

Myself I think I’d prefer the hunt for pelf to any other grouping of people controlling it. Certainly I’d prefer those interested only in the cash to be deciding what to do with it rather than the sort of people who get elected to political power. Or, worse, the not-elected who end up running state bureauracies.

A little story, the Germans used Hollerith card machines – supplied by IBM – to tot up the results of the Census in the 1930s. Come the round up to the camps all they had to do was run the cards through again and note who had put “Jew” under religion. So, we’d like the State to have all that power would we? Note whose cards are, quite literally, marked?

Myself I’d prefer those who only care about the loot really. Ellie would prefer those who might actually use it. You?