Photo #1 from Den Helder, Netherlands by Emine made on 2018-04-26 09:28 for Sola

Things really escalated quickly in this month’s Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. While it’s usually best to just sit back with a bucket of popcorn and watch reality business drama unfold, I was surprised by the severe reactions insinuating Facebook’s eagerness to profit at the expense of its users’ data, creating paranoia around data analytics and equating data driven targeting to an underhanded practice of mind control. Perhaps this is because it’s being bundled up with the clearly unethical issues of fake news and foreign interference, both of which are distinct from the issue of data harvesting through Facebook’s API.

The scandal surrounding Facebook’s graph API 1.0 and 2.0 might not have been rooted in malicious intent. In fact, a key component of the solution lies in forming a shared understanding amongst platforms, regulators and users, of what data can reasonably be considered private. “Facebook gave out its users data!” Indeed it did. But it is important to gauge the motivation and intent behind doing this. For starters, this wasn’t a “ leak ” as many have called it. Graph API 1.0 was a conscious feature Facebook rolled out under its Platform vision to allow other developers to utilize Facebook data to give rise to presumably useful new apps and use-cases.

Core features of popular apps like Tinder, Timehop and various Zynga social games are powered by their ability to access users’ preexisting Facebook content, social connections and information, instead of having users build up that information from scratch for each app they use. It was also not a “loophole” . Limitations and procedures for accessing data were clearly stated in the API’s documentation, available publicly for everyone to read. It did not hide the fact that a user’s friends’ data could also be accessed. This was a product and architectural decision; and a bad decision in hindsight, because it lacked basic precautions against bad actors.

But after all, this was API 1.0 and as with all first versions in the new agile world, there is always going to be significant learnings and course correction. importantly, Facebook did not make any money from developers accessing data through the API. Therefore, the growing narrative insinuating some deceptive, profiteering motives with regards to user data does not resonate with me. “Data is dangerous since it can be used for psychographic profiling in political campaigns!” The media outcry has been sounding alarms and highlighting how data can be used to create segments and psychographic profiles to influence people with pinpoint precision.

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Netherlands, Den Helder
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