The many deceptions of Mark Zuckerberg
Apr 18, 2018
Well, this happened last week.
Zuck was on the stand for about 10 hours across two days of Senate and House joint committee hearings. And I'll admit, I was impressed with his composure. Here's a 33-year-old guy who, unlike Bill Gates 20 years before him, didn't give in to overt expressions of irritation or arrogance. Clearly he had been heavily coached beforehand - which helps explain the somewhat robotic mannerisms and the weird tic of beginning every response with "Senator" or "Congressman" or "Congresswoman" (see Slate's supercut video).
He just didn't tell the truth.
With 2 billion users and counting, Facebook is unavoidable, and it's growing more influential by the day. It's vital that we understand what Zuck is actually up to, especially since he didn't reveal it in his testimony. A number of media sources have helpfully corrected his inaccurate claims. Thus I present you with...
Untruths, deceptions, and misdirections that Zuck fed to Congress:
• "You control your data." Not true, says Washington Post's Geoffrey Fowler ("No, Mark Zuckerberg, we re not really in control of our data.") Or as this EFF piece says, "Zuckerberg's insistence that users have 'complete control' neatly overlooks all the ways that users unwittingly 'share' information with Facebook."
• "You own your data." That's impossible, says Gizmodo, given the "shadow profiles" that Facebook keeps on people who never use Facebook. (How can non-users "own" or "control" the data that Facebook's surveillance has compiled on them?) Even Facebook's Privacy Operations team disagrees with Zuck, points out MIT's Technology Review. See also this WSJ piece by Christopher Mims ("Facebook has a lot more data about us than it lets on").
• "It's easy to opt out whenever you want." Give me a break, says Alex Hern. Easy? The basic opt-out requires 14 steps, says David Carroll:
• "Facebook doesn't sell your data." That's deceptive, says this Vice article: Zuck's claim is "an expert-level demonstration of hair-splitting ... [your data] is valuable, and by not allowing other entities access to it, Facebook can monetize that same data over and over again."
• "Facebook is a community." Not at all, says Ian Bogost...
See also Nicholas Carr's comment on Zuck's repetition of "community," and this essay in Wired UK (Facebook "is a corrupt, despotic government, deceiving its citizens at home, even as it imposes its barren colonialism abroad"). As The Intercept points out from a confidential document, Facebook promises advertisers that it can predict future behavior, allowing companies to target people on the basis of decisions they haven t even made yet. What a fun community!
• "We'll solve it with AI." Willful deception, says Eric Gilbert. (Just like the market we worshipped before!)
• "We need to increase the security of data that users upload." Misdirection, says Zeynep Tufekci. The real issue is "HOW WE KEEP FACEBOOK FROM COLLECTING DATA ON US":
Justin Brookman describes the misdirection this way: "FB always tries to frame privacy as you vs the world, not you vs Facebook." And as David Carroll put it here: "Zuck attempts to redefine the very definition of 'privacy' as what we share, not what he collects."
• "Conspiracy theory" is how Zuck described users' concern about Facebook snooping on the phone. Unfair, says LibrarianShipwreck: "Bear in mind that until pretty recently you were mocked as wearing a tinfoil hat if you talked about 99% of the things that Facebook is now in the hot seat for having done." See also this video test of Facebook and Google by Mitch Hollow.
• "Facebook is here to serve you." Hardly the case, says Ian Bogost: "The computer ceased to be a servant of human life and began to be the purpose for which that life is conducted. That's the heart of problem with the technology industry today, and it's a problem that data-privacy regulation alone has no hope of fixing." See also his article in The Atlantic comparing the Facebook debacle to the dotcoms.
• "Facebook made mistakes because it was so idealistic, focusing on doing good things, and no one could have imagined bad things happening." Delusional, says Wired's Erin Griffith: "'I'm sorry for being too focused on the good and not enough on the bad' is about as sincere as saying your greatest weakness is you work too hard." Or as Siva Vaidhyanathan put it, "The idealism is the problem. There is a fine line between pledging to do no evil and believing you can do no wrong."
What happens next with Facebook?
• Failed by Facebook, We'll Return to the Scene of the Crime. We Always Do. Andrew Ross Sorkin argues that, most likely, nothing will change as most Facebook users don't seem to care about surveillance.
• The New Republic has a simple suggestion: Ban Targeted Advertising.
• Four Questions For Facebook That We Still Need Answers To (by Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo founder and past Techtonic guest)... not to be confused with The Atlantic's Three Questions Mark Zuckerberg Hasn't Answered.
• As I posted: Don't forget that what we've learned of Facebook and Google surveillance is only what journalists discovered. Be assured that (a) Facebook and Google are doing other, equally disturbing things that weren't detected, and (b) they're planning now for future launches to be harder to detect.
• But don't worry, because (if you're from US/Canada/Europe) you're not the focus anyway. Zuck wants his next billion users - and they'll come from Asia and Africa.
• At least we'll always have Zuck eating toast.
Listen to my Techtonic podcast to hear audio excerpts of Zuck's Congressional testimony (and more) in this week's April 16 episode.