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Opinion: There's one way to control Facebook

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany
March 21, 2018

Tougher security settings on Facebook just won't cut it, says DW's Zulfikar Abbany. In his opinion, you shouldn't be using Facebook in the first place — and users have themselves to blame in part for data breaches.

Facebook with a shadow
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus

Imagine you're an alien, snooping around from space, and you happen to catch some American cable network coverage of Facebook's (current) data scandal, as I just did in a Hamburg hotel this week. You might think the tech giant's only issue was tumbling stock.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who famously took his first cynical steps towards creating the society-smashing social network in a university dorm, has seen his company take a financial hammering. Or so the story goes.

At one point on Monday, Facebook was down $50 billion (€40.7 billion) in market value. That's one thousand dollars for every one of the 50 million Facebook users who apparently had his or her data misappropriated — read, stolen and misused for some psychological warfare tool — by the UK-based data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica. And Zuckerberg reportedly took a personal hit of $6 billion the day after the data abuse was revealed. Pooey.

Do I care? Come off it.

Read more: Facebook's profile: 5 things to know about the world's biggest social network

Facebook to investigate data abuse

Complicit Facebook users

I don't even care about the fact that Facebook has deployed surveillance tactics, the envy of any spy agency, to increase its advertising power since it started. Or the fact that more than 2 billion monthly active Facebook users social-striptease their lives. Why? Because all users are complicit. Just like a drug addict can't only blame her dealer, Facebook users cannot only blame Facebook. Every data breach starts the moment you log online — even if you use a virtual private network (VPN).

Yes, I am being rather conceited and taking the moral high ground here. But I can afford to because I don't use Facebook. I have an account purely to access the network when I need to verify user-generated content for work. But otherwise I have never understood Facebook's appeal — right from the early days when colleagues would forget it was time to head behind the mic to read the news because they were too busy updating their status.

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
Zuckerberg's Facebook affects all aspects of life, even for non-usersImage: Imago/Zumapress/J. Arriens

There is one caveat, though: even as a non-user, Facebook's reach into my life is significant, simply through the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of crowd (un)intelligence that it and other social media … create (for want of a less positive-sounding word).

Brought it upon ourselves

But ultimately, the Cambridge Analytica breach is not the crux of the matter. You don't need big data analytics, algorithms and artificial intelligence to construct terrifyingly true profiles of people anywhere in the world. All you need is a set of eyeballs and a smattering of human intelligence. 

And this is the very point. We have willingly thrown almost all human intelligence into some random dustbin of history and handed over the keys to our hearts and minds to a top tier of incredibly clever tricksters and fraudsters — for what they do is largely within the law (albeit their law). Yet at the same time we expect toothless governments to control a market that refuses to be regulated. Sometimes I wonder whether it's even in a government's interest to regulate the tech industry (see Ireland's pushback on Apple back taxes).

Forget government and find the delete button

Abbany Zulfikar Kommentarbild App
DW Science's Zulfikar Abbany

To their credit, UK parliamentarians have summoned Zuckerberg to answer questions about whether Facebook previously provided "misleading" evidence on the risk to user data. Power play? Yeah, well, let's say Zuckerberg graces London with his presence. But what's to stop him for providing yet more misleading evidence? After all, misleading the public is built into social media by design. Try finding the "delete account" button on Facebook — or many other apps, for that matter — and you'll see what I mean. Plus there is precedence: Look back at the tech tax scandal. Did any government intervention ever fix that? Hardly.    

So, if you want to reign in Facebook's control over your life and personal data, there is but one way and that is to find that hidden "delete account" button. The Verge has posted a handy article on this and advises you to first download a copy of your Facebook data. The option is in "Settings," and you'll need to click "Start My Archive." When you're done, try this link to delete your account for good. Whatever you do, don't login again, or your account may be reactivated. Instead, sit back, and reconnect with your old analog self.

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany Senior editor fascinated by space, AI and the mind, and how science touches people