Facebook’s unsettled crisis with Cambridge Analytica may become further inflamed as issues of user privacy and debates between two technological giants intensify.
Following the recent Facebook scandal regarding the Twitter movement known as #DeleteFacebook, Mark Zuckerberg has received staggering backlash from the public as well as the CEO of Apple Inc., Tim Cook. The movement is motivated by the stream of users’ data breach including propagation of hate speech and disinformation to undermine trust in democratic institutions, facilitated by Cambridge Analytica’s access to 50 million Facebook users’ information without consent. Facebook has more than 2.1 billion users worldwide and focuses on intercontinental user markets like India, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico; as a result, the infringement of users information brings unethical data concerns to light .
In a recent interview with an American journalist, Zuckerberg firmly defined Facebook as a governance structure that caters more to what’s beneficial for the community, rather than one that composes short-term oriented shareholders.Having served as a social networking service company since 2004, Facebook considers itself to be a social infrastructure that embraces all communities and empowers the public to achieve things they couldn’t do on their own. In Zuckerberg’s Facebook Manifesto Building Global Community , he highlights, “the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” As ironic as it sounds, Zuckerberg’s current crisis with Cambridge Analytica not only problematizes but also challenges his beliefs stated in the Manifesto. Facebook reports that in just two weeks Cambridge Analytica has accessed private information from 50 to 87 million user data. In his full-page advertisement on March 25 in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and six British papers, Zuckerberg claims: “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” and that “this was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time.” Doesn’t his apology make you doubt his intentionality? Does he truly want to protect you as an individual with free speech, freedom under his media-networking infrastructure, or does he want to have control over your data within the company’s archive instead?
As socio-political calamity escalated, the tension between Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg arose when Cook sat down with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes for a live interview on an upcoming MSNBC special: “Revolution: Apple Changing the World.” When Swisher asked Cook what he would do in Zuckerberg’s position with Cambridge Analytica, he responded, “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Cook raised the fundamental difference between Apple and Facebook that could draw the line from ever finding itself in the same circumstances — Apple makes its money from products, not people — stating that it is a product-oriented company which focuses on making products like smartphones, watches, computers, software programs, cloud storage et cetera, so the need to take user data for profit isn’t necessary. “ The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that ,” said Cook.
Zuckerberg fired back at Cook, stating that if Cook presumed that companies who don’t make their users pay for the service somehow deems them careless about their users. Hence, Zuckerberg says that Facebook “remains a free product, so advertising is the only way the company can make money,” which might makes sense at first glance. He adds, “I don’t think at all that that means that we don’t care about people. To the contrary, I think it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you. Because that sounds ridiculous to me.” He blatantly undermines Apple’s position in the tech industry in saying that Apple charge their users more than they need to for no purposes. His backlash to Cook’s critique challenges his own stance, seeing that Apple actually set their product prices higher for its incomparable qualities and features.
Drawing connections between the disaster with theories folks have discussed within Digital Dissidence course, McKenzie Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto introduces the vectoralist class as the class which wages an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property. Facebook, in this instance, serves as a vectoralist class that owns the values of these abstractions; Wark states “for the vectoral class, ‘politics is about absolute control over intellectual property by means of war-like strategies of communication, control, and command.’” Does this all click for you now? Corporations like Apple and Facebook, despite their so-called havenly infrastructures to support us and keep us safe are all lies. Mass production of media and the exploitations of workers, who are the public in this case, constitutes capitalism.
We are conditioned to believe that we contribute to the modes of production where we have a share of know-how networks are shared. To make Wark’s argument transparent, information isn’t dependent on a centralized network, but on multiple decentralized networks for undisrupted access to information. Facebook feeds off from user data and input. Every individual on the Internet who utilizes any form of social platform subconsciously helps facilitate the vectoralist class’ growth. Thus we have to reframe our understanding of advantages of a decentralization discourse. Digital dissidents like hackers revolt against monopolized corporations. As Wark details: “the hacker interest is not in mass representation, but in a more abstract politics that expresses the productivity of differences. Hackers, who produce many classes of knowledge… have the potential also to produce a new knowledge of class formation and action when working together with the collective experience of all the productive classes.” Hackers tap into realms where people previously thought was impossible in order to protest the censored and regulated power structure; they expose various authorities by showing the public what’s prohibited and manipulated upon.
In all, it is vital for the public to acknowledge that in the contemporary world infrastructural transformations have progressively moved from centralized to decentralized networks, paving our way to better establish ourselves in cyberspace. The truth is, in such infrastructures like Facebook and Apple, we still face struggles to keep our data secure and feel protected to construct our own perspectives in cyberspace. Which side do you stand for? Are you convinced by Cook’s critique towards Zuckerberg’s wrongdoing on infringing user data, or do you take Zuckerberg’s attempt to slam Cook’s criticism? Do you think Facebook stands on the tip of the iceberg to unwillingly expose itself as a company who follows the advertising-supported model as primary source of revenue? Leave the comments below for further discourse.
Kelly Lai is a senior major in Culture and Media major and minor in fashion communication at The New School, and an active participant in activism and feminism around campus.