Breaking up Facebook? Try data literacy, social engineering, personal knowledge graphs, and developer advocacy
Yes, Facebook is a data-driven monopoly. But the only real way to break it up is by getting hold of its data and functionality, one piece at a time. It will take a combination of tech, data, and social engineering to get there. And graphs — personal knowledge graphs.
The relationship with Facebook has gone from infatuation to passive-aggressive. People love to hate Facebook, often by sharing angry posts on Facebook itself, usually to return to it shortly afterward. The truth is that Facebook has made it pretty easy for people to take issue with it, with blunder after blunder exposing its practices on data management, user rights, privacy, transparency, and control.
Last week it was friendly fire, so to speak, as Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hughes called for Facebook to be broken up by the FTC. Hughes pointed out the fact that Facebook is, in effect, a monopoly. He was not the first one to do so.
TheEconomist was a forerunner, notable for the fact that it pointed to the real nature of the monopoly, not just including Facebook: if data is the new oil, Big Tech owns the oil rigs. Data-driven products such as Facebook harvest data, and use it to enhance their product, and harvest more data.
As noted by ZDNet’s Larry Dignan, however, it’s questionable whether the FTC would consider Facebook a monopoly. It may take a while, if it ever happens. It’s also questionable whether a breakup would work, if it ever happened — as noted by internet pioneer Jaron Lanier, business models based on services in exchange for data are broken, and invariably lead to asymmetry. So, Facebook clones based on the same model would probably not be substantially different.
To fix this, it will take a combination of tech, data, and social engineering.
The surveys on people’s attitude toward data collection are telling. Respondents want more privacy, but are not willing to pay for it. A big part of them would be willing to give out even more data in exchange for free services. This speaks volumes on the state of data sovereignty and awareness in the world right now. Even though being profiled on an individual level should be alarming in and by itself, it’s the bigger picture that matters most here.
Your data is the oil that fuels Facebook. With every scroll, click, like, read, you are feeding its monopoly and voting for its practices with your thumbs. Although to be fair, Facebook tries its best to get your data even if you don’t use it, or have an account in the first place.
The amount of data Facebook has amassed via its practices means it has many legs up in the data and AI race. In a world increasingly ran via machine learning algorithms, the importance of data to train those algorithms is paramount. Facebook’s data trove has also attracted lots of talent, as researchers need data to make algorithms work.
This, however, brings us to a very real issue. As Hughes pointed out, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the backlash against Facebook has intensified. Yet #deletefacebook has not lead to much change, as lack of viable alternatives means people are largely left with two options: Giving up social networking altogether, or keep using Facebook.