Click by click, drowning in data, we Internet ‘users’ are being used

Author(s): 
Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
March 29, 2018

The revelation that Cambridge Analytica was involved in the extraction of data involving over 50 million Facebook users has raised more than a few questions about just what went wrong and who is to blame. Facebook originally deflected the blame, saying, “People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.” But this statement reveals precisely what has gone wrong with the entire digital ecosystem. The Cambridge Analytica debacle reveals that the system worked exactly as intended. We never stood a chance.

Sometime in the early 2000s, tech companies and lawmakers converged on a path that turned the Internet against you. The apps you downloaded, the screens you interacted with, and the devices you used were slowly but surely designed to ensure that you never stopped sharing and exposing yourself.

The root of the problem is counterintuitive. It’s all about the control. Specifically, our desire to have control over our data has been turned against us. In theory, it’s good to be able to control how our data are collected, used, and shared. It lets us optimize the risks and rewards of sharing and determine our own fate. Unfortunately, the control we’ve been given is a mirage. Companies are manipulating our perception of control, which causes us to share more and feel good about it in the process. Companies engineer our consent for even the riskiest of disclosures.

Of course, that’s not how it’s usually presented to us. Tech companies treat their requests for our permission to collect and use our personal information as though it were a gift. Mark Zuckerberg and other tech leaders embrace this narrative with statements like “What people want isn’t complete privacy. It isn’t that they want secrecy. It’s that they want control over what they share and what they don’t.”

Read the full piece at The Boston Globe