senator: my aides have given me this complex multi-part question to read to you in a halting and uncertain voice— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) April 10, 2018
zuckerberg: oh no don't worry about that, our new motto is 'we fixed it'
senator: that sounds wrong but i don't know what to ask
If I understand this Facebook contretemps correctly, I don't understand it.
Personal information I don't want anybody sharing would include my social security number, my bank account numbers, my credit card numbers, my waistline measurement, and my medical records. And my nicknames for my wife that I don't use in public; stuff like that. As far as I know, Cambridge Analytica didn't use any of that type of information to target political ads to poeple on Facespace; MyBook; whatever.
Sen. Durbin got a lot of mileage out of asking Mark Zuckerberg to reveal what hotel he's staying at while in D.C. But that's the kind of information people willingly put on Facebook; or so I understand. And how does that target you for advertising? Especially if I stay at a hotel where I have a card that tracks my stays and gives me rewards? And how is that information turned into a psychological profile that indicates I'm a ripe target for an ad promoting nationalist xenophobia as the cure for the nation's ills?
I'm old enough to remember when zip codes were the new data source that would tell all marketers what they wanted to know about me, that would be eerily accurate about what I did, thought, bought, desired, and who I would vote for. I lived in one of the more "exclusive" zip codes in Austin, Texas for a while, and I've never lived in a neighborhood with a more motley crew of individuals in it. Our political persuasions were all across the board, our interests couldn't have been more different: we had Austin libertarian gun-toters alongside Cajun free-thinkers mixed with elderly rural types (in the heart of town) mixed with old Austin liberals mixed with....you get the idea. And that was just the houses around me. We didn't shop the same way, buy the same things (some of us were worried deeply about chemicals in our cleansers long before most of the rest of us were worried about pesticides on our food), attend the same movies. The same zip code encompassed wealthy lawyers and real-estate developers and yuppies and transplants from other states, etc., etc., etc. What the zip code of that area told someone about every household on my block was about as accurate as knowing their astrological sign. Still, it was treated as gospel.
Before that, or in addition, it was age. TV marketing still depends on certain ages reportedly watching certain shows. All the re-run channels now available thanks to digital broadcast clearly slant their ads toward aging Boomers (who else would watch those re-runs? It's our childhood.) as well as at the usual suspects: people at home during the day because they are injured and need a lawyer or a loan; people interested in gadgets because they aren't watching the major broadcast channels and are at home during the day; etc. etc., etc. Marketing aimed at who the marketer thinks is watching/listening is nothing new. My local NPR station uses it to encourage businesses to donate; people who listen to NPR are loyal to businesses who support NPR, is how the pitch goes. Even NPR is selling my ears to someone, in a sense; just as TV has been selling my eyes since I first sat down in front of one.
What personal information, exactly, is Faceplace giving away that I haven't given them already? ATT knows who I call (or T-Mobile, but probably ATT gets all that data anyway, especially if my cell connects to a landline), for how long, how often, and when. Does this keep me from using a telephone? Alamo Drafthouse knows what movies I like, or at least what movies I've paid to see at their theaters. Netflix thinks it knows what I like, but it usually guesses wrong. Amazon thinks it knows what books I read, but I download electronic books for my mother from them, so the joke is on them. Is any of this deeply personal information I don't want them to have? My local independent bookstore knows what I like to read, too. They even know my name! Talk about personal information!
Just as amusing is some of the reporting on the hearing:
Another culprit in Tuesday’s snore-athon was that many lawmakers clearly lacked a firm grasp of how Facebook works. “So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?“ asked Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican. Zuckerberg could hardly contain a smirk as he replied: “Senator, we run ads.”
Oh, you mean like television! Yeah, I don't think Orrin Hatch is missing his grip on what he wanted to get across. Basically, though, it was as Charlie Pierce described it:
The actual testimony, however, was a glimpse into how an 18th century institution, run primarily by 20th century white men, tries to cope with 21st century technology and its application to electoral chicanery. Most of them would have been better off letting their grandchildren question Zuckerberg.Except I heard almost nothing about electoral chicanery. I think that got lost in the questions about motels and revenue streams.
The Europeans have a legal concept of the "right to be forgotten" that I'm fully in favor of, inasmuch as I understand it. But I don't think anyone in Congress is so much as floating that as a possible legal solution. I don't even think they're floating any legal solutions at all. Best I can tell is they're trying to embarrass Mark Zuckerberg and, like Sen. Durbin or Sen. Cruz, managing only to embarrass themselves. This is not the monster you are looking for; and castigating Mark Zuckerberg is not getting anywhere near the vulnerabilities our election system is threatened with. Just let it go. You are hacking at the branches of the tree of evil, really at the twigs that have already fallen to the ground.
There are more serious problems afoot, and Congress is refusing to even notice their existence.