|November 3, 2013
"That social norm is just something that has evolved over time" is how Mark Zuckerberg justified hijacking your privacy in 2010, after Facebook imperiously reset everyone's default settings to "public." "People have really gotten comfortable sharing more information and different kinds." Riiight. Little did we know that by that time, Facebook (along with Google, Microsoft, etc.) was already collaborating with the National Security Agency's PRISM program that swept up personal data on vast numbers of internet users.In light of what we know now, Zuckerberg's high-hat act has a bit of a creepy feel, like that guy who told you he was a documentary photographer, but turned out to be a Peeping Tom. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: At the core of Facebook's business model is the notion that our personal information is not, well, ours. And much like the NSA, no matter how often it's told to stop using data in ways we didn't authorize, it just won't quit. Not long after Zuckerberg's "evolving norm" dodge, Facebook had to promise the feds it would stop doing things like putting your picture in ads targeted at your "friends"; that promise lasted only until this past summer, when it suddenly "clarified" its right to do with your (and your kids') photos whatever it sees fit. And just this week, Facebook analytics chief Ken Rudin told the Wall Street Journalthat the company is experimenting with new ways to suck up your data, such as "how long a user's cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user's newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone."
There will be a lot of talk in coming months about the government surveillance golem assembled in the shadows of the internet. Good. But what about the pervasive claim the private sector has staked to our digital lives, from where we (and our phones) spend the night to how often we text our spouse or swipe our Visa at the liquor store? It's not a stretch to say that there's a corporate spy operation equal to the NSA—indeed, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
Yes, Silicon Valley libertarians, we know there is a difference: When we hand over information to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and PayPal, we click "I Agree." We don't clear our cookies. We recycle the opt-out notice. And let's face it, that's exactly what internet companies are trying to get us to do: hand over data without thinking of the transaction as a commercial one. It's all so casual, cheery, intimate—like, like?
But beyond all the Friends and Hangouts and Favorites, there's cold, hard cash, and, as they say on Sand Hill Road, when the product is free, you are the product. It's your data that makes Facebook worth $100 billion and Google $300 billion. It's your data that info-mining companies like Acxiom and Datalogix package, repackage, sift, and sell. And it's your data that, as we've now learned, tech giants also pass along to the government. Let's review: Companies have given the NSA access to the records of every phone call made in the United States. Companies have inserted NSA-designed "back doors" in security software, giving the government (and, potentially, hackers—or other governments) access to everything from bank records to medical data. And oh, yeah, companies also flat-out sell your data to the NSA and other agencies.Read More...