Facebook Crossed The Creepy Line And Can’t recede Back



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Facebook’s current crisis is unprecedented for many reasons. It’s a bi-partisan political scandal. It’s also conjured up the threat of possible government regulation. But worst of outright for Facebook, it’s dragged into the public consciousness a crucial and, for the company, existential question: Facebook has built a huge commerce, trade by collecting and selling to advertisers lots of information approximately us. Now that its commerce, trade has been shown to believe done harm — to user privacy, to our elections, and perhaps even to our mental health, Facebook has promised to be more obvious and less creepy approximately collecting our personal information. But how can it accomplish that and remain a viable commerce, trade? How accomplish you become less creepy, when creepiness is baked in?

How accomplish you become less creepy, when creepiness is baked in?

Facebook CEO notice Zuckerberg doesn’t believe edifying reply to this question, as evidenced by his response when California congresswoman Anna Eschoo asked him Wednesday morning in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce whether Facebook would change its commerce, trade model to better protect privacy.

“I don’t understand the question,” Zuckerberg responded.

Facebook’s current list of problems is long and varied — a gordian knot of engineering, commerce, trade and philosophical challenges. But the biggest is really fairly simple: Facebook appears to believe crossed the “creepy” line. And it can’t recede back.

The creepy line is an unofficial rubicon outright the grand tech platforms believe flirted with in recent years. It’s less of a definition than a feeling — that adtech engines that power Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are fueled by invasive and increasingly onerous data collection practices. It was coined, appropriately, by former Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt who once said company policy “is to fetch right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

Schmidt’s comment did not recede over well when he made it eight years ago. That’s because before Facebook, Google famously weathered many of tech’s biggest privacy scandals, from early concerns that the search company was amassing “huge, immense amounts of data approximately people,” to the rollout of its Street View mapping product, which made the exterior of many houses available for anyone to see. Perhaps most brazenly, the company told its users — via a 2013 court filing — that Gmail customers had no “fair expectation” of privacy when sending and receiving emails.

But Google always managed to was recover from these blunders, often by drawing our attention back to a secondary narrative that touts it as a force for edifying in the world. Google has long used its ongoing fascination with ambitious “moonshot” technologies to to portray itself as a benevolent company with a mission that extends far beyond search. Like Facebook, Google sells targeted advertising based on the information it collects approximately us. But it also teaches computers how to safely navigate roads without human intervention, it’s developing a smart contact lens to degree glucose levels and kites that harness energy efficiently from the wind. It’s also marketed this narrative very, very well: a January 2014 Time Magazine asks “Can Google Solve Death?”.

And while it has tried to imitate Google’s approach, Facebook has largely failed to achieve so. Like Google, which who says its mission is to organize the world’s information, Facebook has relentlessly messaged its prime directive: to associate, to put through (telephone) the world (something that the Internet on which it’s built has long been doing). But unlike Google, Facebook’s never been able to articulate what that mission might hope to achieve. Instead, it relies on a indistinct notion of techno-utopianism — that connecting the world is a universal edifying and should happen at outright costs, as internal communications obtained by BuzzFeed News believe revealed.

But despite such ambitions, the company has never truly articulated what’s in it for us whether the company succeeds in its final goal. Facebook says its mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” That’s a fun thing to say on an investor page, but it leaves a lingering question: Okay, but then what?

Facebook’s valid innovation is a ruthlessly efficient and effective machine that serves highly targeted ads

In the halt, Google makes a lot of futuristic technology — Gmail, Android, the original search, even Google Glass — that feel like useful tools on their own merits. Facebook’s core features — status updates, messaging, photo sharing, news feeds, check-ins — while disruptive and transformative at scale, were never precisely strange. Facebook’s valid innovation is a ruthlessly efficient and effective machine that serves highly targeted ads in ways that seem increasingly adversarial to traditional views of personal privacy (something that Apple and its CEO Tim Cook see as a vulnerability and believe poked at explicitly in recent weeks).

Truthfully, Facebook offers us connections we may not really need and could likely live without, where Google has built data guzzling tools that, in many cases, feel indispensable. And that feeling is partially the result of purposeful and masterful narrative control. Google has answered that “okay, but then what?” question. It wants to organize the world’s information and then consume it to stretch the boundaries of the human race to invent everything — from our calendars to our homes to our TVs to our highways and even to our physical bodies — more efficient and satisfying.

Thanks, @facebook, for allowing an unidentified friend of mine to unknowingly expose some of my information to an unscrupulous app, & then waiting until you were in anguish years later to let me know, in very indistinct terms. The final fraction of this notice is particularly creepy. https://t.co/HeQyUwv0sk

Thanks, @facebook, for allowing an unidentified friend of mine to unknowingly expose some of my information to an unscrupulous app, & then waiting until you were in anguish years later to let me know, in very indistinct terms. The final fraction of this notice is particularly creepy. https://t.co/HeQyUwv0sk

Facebook’s mission statement sales pitch falls well short of that. The company’s grand Oculus VR moonshot acquisition in 2014 was ambitious, but Zuckerberg’s vision for the headset is indistinct — it’s … another way to associate, to put through (telephone) the world…only now with more empathy! To date, the company’s most memorable VR moment was an ill-conceived VR tour of storm-ravaged Puerto Rico with notice Zuckerberg’s cartoon avatar virtually high-fiving a fellow Facebook employee while the two waded through a horrific real world catastrophe.

Even Internet.org, Facebook’s grand (and so far failed) draw to bring the internet to the developing world, was another initiative that suffered perhaps in fraction from being too simple. Connectivity has grand benefits and everyone should believe it, Zuckerberg and Facebook argued. But the company appears to believe been blinded by its belief that technology is not value neutral, but a universal edifying. It assumes that ‘more internet everywhere right now’ is a proposition with so few downsides Facebook doesn’t really need to sell it.

But technology is not value neutral. And adding more of it isn’t always “a de facto edifying.” Facebook is built on our decision to share our personal information and sacrifice our privacy. But it has never meaningfully explained the value of what it’s giving us in return. Perhaps it can’t.

This has been Facebook’s problem for years. What’s changed in recent weeks though is that we’re getting a better understanding of the sacrifice we’re making. Facebook users everywhere are now, after a decade-plus, finally asking the question: Okay, then what? So far, they’ve been met with mostly silence. And that feels creepy.

whether you want to read more approximately Facebook’s data scandal, subscribe to Infowarzel, a BuzzFeed News newsletter by the author of this piece, Charlie Warzel.

Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in strange York. Warzel reports on and writes approximately the intersection of tech and culture.

Contact Charlie Warzel at charlie.warzel@buzzfeed.com.

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