Digita_Transparency_Surveillance

The Myth of Transparency: Facebook´s ugly face (2/4)

Posted 3 CommentsPosted in Big Data, Crisis, Crisis management, Data mining, Privacy, Privacy, Social media, Trust

A crisis about transparency (or lack of), we could summarise the Facebook reputation nightmare. Or, as the Times magazine puts it  brilliantly: “All this has prompted sharp criticism of the company, which meticulously tracks its users but failed to keep track of where information about the lives and thinking of those people went.” In this apparent paradox lies the first point I would like to highlight in this 4-part analysis: The Myth of Transparency.

If you read books such as Jeff Jarvis’ Public Parts (2011), you know how social media has successfully created a hype about the virtues of living life under the public sphere, in a continuous Self Big Brother. Although back then Jarvis agreed with some sort of protection to people’s privacy, such as the ones proposed by then European commissioner Viviane Reding, he was defending a libertarian, perhaps utopian, view of transparency that disregarded a basic impulse behind the “publification” of our lives by tech companies: data has economic value and social media thrives on marketing data.

What this crisis has brought to the surface and to the attention of regulators was the culmination of a series of privacy issues and breaches involving Internet and more famously Facebook. It is perhaps the beginning of the “end of the innocence” and the realisation by the users that transparency is good when it happens on both ways: from the part of the producer of the data (i.e. us) and the marketer of the data (social media companies). The market has become more mature and people starts to realise that there has never been a truly “free service” by Google or Facebook. As Viviane Reding poses it: we pay the service with our data.

To be fair, these companies never have said that they didn’t use people’s data for different purposes, including making tons of money. However, what people are noticing now is how obscure and careless firms have been in the management of this data – and how vulnerable they are when their minds can be read by data mining companies such as Cambridge Analytic with the controversial, and at the same time, brilliant experiment conducted by Kosinski et al (2015).

People are also realising how social media creates a subtle form of surveillance, by letting unknown organisations to access their view of the world, their relationships and their tastes. By impacting serious decisions like votes in a general election, for example, or referendums, the public opinion starts realising the risks of manipulation in this cycle of data transparency – data mining – campaign management.

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Facebook trust crisis

Facebook´s ugly face (1/4)

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Online Reputation, Privacy, Strategy, Trust

In this high-profile reputation crisis involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica I pose a reflection: Is it possible for a multinational organization to be apolitical? This is one of the main ethical challenges of any multinational, but that is even more important when a company is not simply involved in the business of selling products and services, such as gasoline, shoes or perfumes. In the case of Facebook, which self-defined it ambitiously as a company that wants to ‘make the world more open and connected’, it is clear that it is quite complicated. The mission of the company enters in the collision route with the right to privacy and the power of those who use our data in advertising via Facebook as a weapon of influence.

In this sense, the #DeleteFacebook initiative, although it will seldom affect the company, is an interesting indicator of a possible change of social mood in relation to the nice blue company. That’s because the initiative expresses a rejection and the growing awareness that social networks, and in particular Facebook as its main actor, is not as innocent as their smiley faces or thumbs up icons. Or the posts of dogs and cats.

In this crisis of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica what we see clearly is the questioning of the ethics of a company by the way in which:

  1. Manages the data it has gotten from people: the myth of transparency
  2. Understands the private realm as something commercially profitable: the “monetization of our online footprint”
  3. Ultimately, manages stakeholders’ trust

It is an extremely complex case with implications for any company that moves in the digital economy.  Such companies need some parameters about how to make their strategic decisions when these three aspects face their businesses. In the next three posts I will try to address these points. To be continued…