Remnants of Sense

Harsh words, but important insights, destined to be largely ignored by the herd:

"Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record,"Moglen said of the founder of Facebook. "He has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age."

Why? Because, Moglen said, Mark Zuckerberg had harnessed the energy of our social desires to talk us into a swindle. "Everybody needs to get laid,"Moglen said. "He turned it into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality, and he has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal. Namely, 'I will give you free Web hosting and some PHP doodads, and you get spying for free all the time.'"


But as the business press and slavering investors look on eagerly at Zuckerberg's coronation, many believe that the seeds of Facebook's downfall have already been sown. The company might have brought people together like never before, but exploitation is woven inextricably into its DNA. Facebook makes its money by commercializing personal information, watching its users, analyzing their behavior, and selling what it learns.


What you share and what you click on affects what Facebook knows about your friends, too. And in the aggregate, all this personal information helps build a machine that can know the past and present and make good guesses about the future, a machine whose insights are incredibly valuable to everyone from corporations to state-intelligence services.


What makes Facebook so valuable isn't the Web ads it serves up, but rather the unprecedented amount of information it has about its users, which it can then sell to third parties. Business intelligence—the data a company can scrape together about its customers—is the fastest-growing segment of enterprise computing. Major tech companies are snapping up companies that make business-intelligence software. But the software that does the data mining is only a tool—what really matters is how much data you have. And Facebook has a lot.


In Europe at least, Facebook's users are becoming increasingly aware that Facebook is** first and foremost a surveillance mechanism**, and they don't like it. If that realization spreads, Facebook's most precious asset—its users—could stampede and flee to a safer network.

The societal vanguard will lead the way, out of Facebook and government control, into federated, more open, user-controlled systems that allow for anonymity and privacy.

Posted: 16 February 2012

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