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April 2018
Takeaways from Congress & Facebook Hearings

While most of the two day, ten hour “Facebook faces Congress” show was political grandstanding there are some lessons we can learn from those proceedings.

Lawmakers are clueless!
The great majority of the questions asked by senators and representatives could be answered with a simple Google search. It appears that the main reasons for these hearing are to allow politicians a chance to appear to be in charge, impress donors and appeal to core constituencies. What new information about the operations of Facebook was revealed? Not much!

Congress of the United States.

You are the Product!
If you have a Facebook account then you are the product. Facebooks makes money by selling advertisers access to you. So that you only get ads for things that you are, (supposedly) interested in information about you is used to select the ads that are shown to you. Remember that you agreed to all of this when you signed up!

Privacy is dead!
One you put something out on the Internet there is no such thing as taking it back. It is out there! On mirror sites, history sites, proxy servers and the list goes on. If you don't want it to be seen by hundreds of millions of people don't put it out there in the first place. For more about the death of privacy see my February 2018 Newsletter, Privacy Post Mortem!

Outrage is selective!
These hearings were a result of the actions of Cambridge Analytica. They “leaked” data to Republican campaigns in the 2016 elections. This had a negligible effect on the outcome of the election but hearings are somehow called for. Facebook openly gave data on far more users to Democrat campaigns during the 2012 elections. The Democrats bragged about how much that helped. There were no public hearings for that “leak”.

Senators are complaining about the Facebook User Agreement, (seven page document that is admittedly a difficult read). While these same senators pass documents consisting of hundreds, (sometimes thousands) of pages, which they don't even read at all, into laws.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook

What did we learn?
Mark frequently responded that they are “working on this” or they have plans to do this “in the future”. Mark and his team are relying heavily on AI to monitor the system. How effective that is against fake news, Russian trolls and Chinese “hackers” remains to be seen. We will have to wait until sometime “in the future” because they are “working on this”. I don't think you should hold your breath waiting for these changes from Facebook or any meaningful regulations from Congress.

I was surprised at the number of questions about Facebook that Mr. Zuckerberg didn't seem to know.

  • He supposedly didn't know about major court cases regarding privacy policies against his company.
  • He supposedly didn't know that FTC doesn't have fining authority and that Facebook could not have received fines for the 2011 consent order. (If they are found to have violated that order then fines can be imposed.)
  • He supposedly didn't know how many apps Facebook needs to audit.
  • He supposedly didn't know what a shadow profile was.
  • He supposedly didn't know all the kinds of information Facebook is collecting from its own users.

I don't know about you but I find these claims a little hard to believe.

What can you do?
To start with don't post anything on Facebook, (or any other Internet site) that you don't want to share with the rest of the world. Also be suspicious of news that you read on Facebook, (and other Internet blogs). If possible verify the source yourself since you can't trust them to do that for you. If not then take that “news” with a large grain of salt!

Lie when you are filling out your profile. Don't use the real name of your first grade teacher, first pet or first car. Don't use your real birthday instead pick a different month or year. In some cases you can just not answer the question. If these deceptions ever do come back to haunt you just claim it was a typo or that you forgot. Use the, “I don't remember” defense like Hillary or the, “I don't know” defense like Mark!

And remember always back it up!

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