Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the latest in a long line of corporate leaders called to the principal’s office err, that is, before Congress. So apparently this entity known as the United States Government (which has been spying and monitoring its own citizenry at a level that would make a former Stasi agent blush) has called Mr. Zuckerberg to task for apparent “privacy” breaches on the Facebook platform. Let that sink in for a minute: the US government monitors, records, and intercepts all of your web traffic and phone conversations but it is they, of all people, who are concerned about your privacy. Right.
So what exactly is Facebook accused of doing wrong? Apparently they allowed an outside company (Cambridge Analytica) to purchase PUBLIC information about Facebook users from an intermediary. In other words Facebook normally sells this information to advertisers (that is of course their entire business model), but instead someone else got the info for free and sold it. So it seems like Facebook is the wronged party here, not its users or the US Government. It’s the equivalent of the stock boy tossing loaves of bread in the trash and then selling them in the alley after his shift is over. And don’t even get me started on the whole “they allowed Russian trolls to buy ads and influence the 2016 election” nothing burger. Please, everyone who was going to vote for Clinton but then saw a Facebook ad disparaging Hillary and thus changed your vote, please raise your hand. Anyone, anyone? Bueller? Bueller? That’s what I thought.
You’d think Facebook got caught disclosing social security numbers and other sensitive information, oh, wait, that was the IRS. Come on people – what did you expect would eventually happen with all that personal info you’ve been happily typing away into their platform? This is a FREE service. Nothing in life is truly free. As they say, if the service is free, then you’re the product. Or more precisely your metadata is the product: your age, your gender, your likes, your dislikes, your hobbies and on and on. Now I may be showing my age but I do recall a time when television was “free” (and as an aside it is humorous to read about millennials just now discovering this “secret” method to get free TV! Over the air! Who knew?) Why was it free? Because advertisers paid for the entertainment you received just to have the opportunity to try and sell you something. Yes ads are annoying, but that is the price you pay (your time) for that “free” service. Facebook is no different. If you don’t want Facebook to use your private info then don’t use the service or limit what you expose of your life on that platform. This isn’t rocket science.
But, with respect to the Federal government’s snooping into our lives, there is no way to opt out of that short of never using any digital device ever. No phone, no computer, no internet. The men in black are plugged into all of these by virtue of their ability to threaten companies into submission in order to use their products as a backdoor into our private lives. That is the difference between private and public spheres of influence. Private ones are voluntary and can be left if desired. If I don’t want Amazon’s Alexa listening to me then I just turn it off and put it in the drawer. If I don’t want Uncle Sam listening to me then my only choice is to send a physical letter or go meet the other party in person. Also the worst outcome of a private company using your info is an attempt to sell you something you have no interest in. The worst outcome of the state doing so is throwing you in a cage for a myriad of its victimless “crimes.”
The fact that Congress believes they have the authority to call private citizens before their court betrays the reality of the world today. We are not a free people. We have masters. And when the master calls, you come. This is not the same as the employer/employee relationship. That is a voluntary interaction. Our interactions with the state are involuntary (assumed “consent” to their authority via voting notwithstanding). Tolerating bullies (the state) does not equate to voluntary acquiescence to their perceived “right” to order you about; it is simply tolerance of a bully, nothing more, nothing less.