Facebook, Cambridge Analytica Scandal: The Prosumer is also Culpable

Responsibility for Cambridge Analytica’s (mis-)use of Facebook data to aid Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has, rightly, been accorded to all the major players.
Facebook has been criticized for being lax about its data; encouraging loosely controlled third-party apps; allowing them to gather data, sometimes quite personal in nature, about Facebook users; and lacking the ability to prevent that data from falling into the hands of others, especially those who might misuse it. This permissiveness was good for business as more apps generated more users and therefore more advertising revenue for Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica certainly deserves blame for using private data from responses to a personality quiz (thisisyourdigitalife); an app that was installed on 270,000 computers. That, in turn, led to access to information on about 50 million of the app users’ friends.
And. of course, the Trump campaign was willing, even eager, to use all that data, no matter how it was obtained, to aid Trump’s presidential bid.
While all of the above are culpable, at least some of the responsibility lies with Facebook’s users- the prosumers- who provided the data. They were very cavalier about the information they provided and how it might be used and misused. Most of them did not seem to know there was much they could have done to protect their data. They also did not know about the admittedly minimal defenses (e.g. installing tracker blockers) available to them after they had provided the data.
In the past, I, and others, have criticized social media’s prosumers for allowing their information to be used free of charge (see my November 19, 2017 blog “It’s Time to Pay Digital Prosumers for the Data They Now Provide Free of Charge”). These prosumers now stand accused of being oblivious to the potential uses of their information. Prosumers are, by definition, not only consumers of digital information, but they are also the source- the producers- of that information. As such, they should not only be paid for it, but they should be able to exert control over it. They are guilty of not using (or even being aware of) the power they have as a result being (active) producers of information on Facebook (and elsewhere).
In pointing the finger at prosumers, I am in danger of being guilty of “blaming the victims” in this case. There is something to that accusation, although much more of the blame goes to Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the Trump campaign. However, it is not enough for Facebook’s prosumers to accept the fact that they bear some responsibility for the misuse of their data. They need to become what they have the potential to be. That is, “dangerous giants” able not only to exert control over larger systems (e.g. Facebook), but to bring them down when the need arises.
We can expect (minor) reforms as a result of the current scandal, but many risks will always remain. As a result, prosumers need to be aware of what they contribute, as well as the dangers they pose, to systems such as Facebook. When the need arises, they have a responsibility to act like the “giants” they have the potential to be.

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Comments

  1. Agree. But it is not solely the human condition but to the advantage of Facebook to ‘hide’ this reality.
    Perhaps this will be the beginning of a much needed wake-up call for users. You’re only present on these channels because you choose to be present on these channels. There are many channels, there are many realities. Be aware – make a choice and accept the multitude of realities.
    Remember too we, that is none of us, need Facebook, Google, Ikea, McDonalds, Disney, Trump or the gods. They all serve us, not the other way. Lest we forget. We’re prosumer’s, we are our own cooperative, so why oh why do we allow these corporations to own our rights, our service to one another and our perspectives on what counts?
    I cannot choose to leave social media, but I can choose to delete my Facebook account, use Duck Duck Go, get my furniture from Craig’s List, eat healthier, not accept ‘norms’ in the narratives I expose my kids to, vote differently and accept my mistakes (I did not vote in the presidential elections – I am a UK citizen), remain ‘true’ to my pagan ancestors and serve others well.
    Thank you George, you raise so many important issues in this wonderful space, and serve us all so well.

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