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Pete Lawrence - 31 Jan 2021
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Too many are still asking the question, 'How much can we get away with?' When they need to be asking, 'What are the consequences?'

Many have been predicting a tipping point at which the social media-using world (that's most of the world, then) wakes up to the moral questions and the business models behind the main operators.

For reference, I suggested in 2018 that "The future is all about sustainable business models for web democratisation, communities founded around a de-centralised network, equitable post-capitalist models rather than shareholder profit-maximising top-down elites."

That tipping point may have arrived last week when Apple CEO Tim Cook seized the initiative at the Brussels' International Data Privacy Day last Thursday by discreetly turning the spotlight on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Cook's speech seems to be a direct response to a recent attack by Facebook on Apple, in which the world's largest social network took out full-page ads in several newspapers attacking Apple's new privacy changes, designed to protect the 'user'. 

With some urgency and no shortage of insight, Cook paints a prescient picture of the choices we each have to make now with our social media habits, based on the consequences we are seeing unfolding through society.

Cook's full-blooded critique of Facebook was all the more remarkable as it didn't mention Zuckerberg's company once by name 

Here's the text of Cook's speech:

"Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it, and we're here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.

If a business is built on misleading users on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.

We should not look away from the bigger picture and a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theory is juiced by algorithms. We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better, and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

Too many are still asking the question, 'How much can we get away with?' When they need to be asking, 'What are the consequences?'

What are the consequences of prioritising conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of the high rates of engagement?

What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?

What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users joining extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more?

It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn't come with a cause. A polarisation of lost trust, and yes, of violence.

A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe."

The fact that Cook stops short of naming Facebook undoubtedly increases its impact. His diplomacy is all the more powerful for its deliberate omission of any direct reference to the Zuckerberg monolith and its outmoded business model.

It is has become clear that Apple's and Facebook's business philosophies are diametrically opposed to each other, with Apple's strong selling point being how much control users have over their  privacy and protection of data. The news has just been announced that from this spring, Apple are allowing users to make their own data choices

Facebook, on the other hand, is in the data-mining business. The more data they collect on users, the more effectively they can sell targeted ads. But collecting and selling all that data comes at great societal cost, as Cook highlights.

"The end result of all of this is that you are no longer the customer," said Cook. "You are the product."

Cook went on to further highlight the differences in Apple's and Facebook's philosophies. "We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you," said Cook. "It's technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. It tells you when you've had enough. It gives you space to create or draw or write or learn, not refresh just one more time."

There's an ongoing debate that's moving beyond the tech world as to whether Apple and Facebook are on diverging paths or on a collision course. 

It seems that what was one seen as an unstoppable force hits may have found that force doesn't always win when it comes to applying the law of nature to business. the "Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough." philosophy now feels reckless and self-centric. Facebook did move fast and it broke a lot of things in the process, including the trust of its users. Many of whom began to understand that while Facebook's product was "free," they were paying by becoming the product.

Campfire talked about this in its 2019 review of Shoshana Zuboff's groundbreaking book 'The Age of Surveillance Capitalism' 

In exchange for the ability to keep up with friends and family, to have a personalised news feed, users were encouraged to sell their online soul--in the form of personalised data that Facebook collects from your every move on its platform and uses to sell relevant ads. As public understanding increased, many began campaigning to "delete Facebook."

Facebook seemed so obsessed with its growing user base that it failed to recognise that its model was not fit for purpose. The company had withstood scandal after scandal, but still billions of people continue to use Facebook.

The tech giant's challenge now is that Apple's update is about to enlighten many of its users on how much Facebook is actually tracking them. And it's going to make it a lot easier for those users to opt out. The fact that Facebook is fighting so hard against Apple shows that the company anticipates a huge hit to its business.

What about Facebook's argument that Apple's new policy will "change the internet for the worse"? 

Facebook claims this change will lead to your favourite cooking sites or sports blogs needing to charge subscription fees, "making the internet much more expensive and reducing high-quality free content."

But Campfire's argument (and many other communities are also coming around to this viewpoint) is that the free content model has been broken for years. This is why most online publications have already moved to other ways of making money, whether through subscriptions, products, 'pay what you feel' models or similar approaches that shun advertising, recognising it as one of the world's most corruptible and disruptive forces, based as it often is around around consumerism.

If people truly value their community network and its values, they are more than happy to support it, as we are finding with Campfire.

Back in 2018, I argued that a radical new model for social networking is needed now. 

My view now is that if people do give a damn about the ethics behind the platforms they spent much of their days on, it has come to crunch and Apple's move has highlighted some stark choices. Do we want a model that works for the good of all and funds itself via community subscription or a 'pay what you feel' model? Or have we realised that the 'free' model has a highly questionable ethos baked into its DNA, when it has to depend on mining our data and selling it back to us collectively as advertising?" 



So Facebook isn't just fighting Apple, it's fighting the future. 

Inc magazine: "One option for Facebook might be that it could simply face the future and Apple head-on. It could focus on taking the hit, and begin adapting its product and business model. Instead, the company is choosing to waste precious time and resources fighting over Apple's privacy policy--something over which they have no control and that Apple is unlikely to change.

The situation is clear: Facebook has been living in its own world for a long time. And barring a major change in direction, it's a world that's destined to come crashing down."

 Tim Cook points out that "advertising existed and thrived for decades" without using data that was collected in less than transparent ways. Now,  as customers are offered more choice when it comes to how apps and websites track their data, experts predict that more and more people will opt out of said tracking. 

Inc magazine suggests that there are major lessons here for entrepreneurs and business owners.

"If you're an advertiser, you'll need to adapt. Or die. But there's also a bigger lesson at stake, which exposes the fault lines woven into Facebook's business model. 

Now is the time to ask yourself: Which philosophy do I want to pursue? 

Do I want a business that serves my customers? Or one that takes advantage of customers to serve my business?

In the end, only one of these philosophies is sustainable for the long-term. The other will lead you to crash and burn.

And while the long-term solution may initially prove more challenging, remember:

"The path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom."

 

 

 

4 Comments

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Christopher Brown

Its interesting that the way the hate groups etc moved from Facebook to the likes of Parler and MeWe and several others picked ones with the same values as Facebook (interesting article on Medium about the problems MeWe it is now facing with an influx of new members). Glad to be on the Campfire Train with its subs and ethos at least it is going somewhere

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Pete Lawrence

I didn't realise the connection between MeWe / Parler and Facebook values. Interested to read the Medium article you mention, @Christopher Brown ...do you have a link?

4785

Christopher Brown

although Me We sold itself on privacy it was dominated by 1 person

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Jo Morphy

I find Apple's Tim Cook's critique of facebook, although he didn't name it, problematic, if he thinks facebook is "prioritising conspiracy theories and violent incitement" that "undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?" then is what he saying that he will not sell personal data of users but will censor news and information?

If, in Cook's opinion, facebook is noncensorious when they are heavily censoring doctors, lawyers and scientists (specifically) who are speaking out against the media rhetoric. If he is calling fb conspiracy theorists, does Apple then decide what is true and not true? do we exchange censorship with data protection (Apple) with censorship and no data protection? (fb) in my world, both are dark and not desirable and need to collapse with the rest of the old system.

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