I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Facebook’s been in the news recently, specifically around the exposure of millions of users’ worth of data to a firm called Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica allegedly used this to help various Republicans, including Donald Trump, during the 2016 election cycle. And to hear a lot of people talk about it, that’s the last sign before the start of the apocalypse, or something like that. To be honest it’s been hard to find a calm take on the whole thing, which has been part of the problem. People are shocked at how much data Facebook has on them. They can’t believe that Facebook lets people use this data to target ads to others. Or that companies may use this targeting for political advertising to try to swing an election. Or Facebook was “breached” (everyone else’s word, not the correct one) and this data leaked out. The truth is that while there were some problems with Facebook, and some bad actors at play, we’re focusing on the wrong things here, and it’s inspiring us to hysterics instead of reasoned analysis and reasonable responses.
I’m going to pause here and just make a note that I work for an email marketing company that emphasizes segmentation and targeted marketing. I’ve also written a Facebook application to create custom audiences on Facebook and keep them synced with their source mailing list. None of this requires data from Facebook users, so I don’t capture any sort of profile information, and all the opinions I’m writing here are my own, but it’s probably worth bearing in mind that my employment revolves around targeted marketing and I have done work to help marketers sync some of their “targeting” over to Facebook, so clearly I’m not as bothered by the concept of targeted advertising as some people may be.