This week Apple launched the latest operating system for iPhones. iOS 14.5 is making headlines because it offers users an opt-out to the creepy ad-tracking surveillance that powers Facebook and its legion of dystopian offshoots. Perhaps, more importantly, is the light iOS 14.5 shines on just how terrifying the tracking has become.
The heavyweight fight is the first in a battle that will largely decide the fate of the internet. On the side of good is Apple, which believes in user privacy. On the side of evil is Facebook which believes in blanket surveillance and mind control. Facebook is apoplectic because Apple’s light is illuminating the former’s nefarious business model predicated entirely on human exploitation.
Facebook (and all of its companies) collect thousands of psychographic data points on most people (even non-users), and deploys them to manipulate – through personalized messaging, content delivery and marketing – on a deeply behavioral level.
If you’re a user, they literally know everything about you (see list below of 99 basic examples of an average of 52,000 data points Facebook likely has on you). If you’re not a user, they still know, through a collection of data-sharing arrangements.
What started as a social media experiment has become history’s most potent and bizarre surveillance machine that long ago, quite literally, hacked the human brain.
Don’t take our word for it. When former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya spoke at the Stanford Graduate School of Business he said he felt “tremendous guilt” at the role he played in growing the tech behemoth.
“It literally is at a point now we’ve created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” said Palihapitiya. “That is literally where we are. I would encourage all of you how to internalize this is – if you feed the beast, the beast will destroy you.”
His comments follow similar ones made by Facebook’s first President, Sean Parker. He explained in an interview that Facebook sought to, and succeeded in, “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
“The thought process that went into building these applications…’ How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?,” Parker said in an Axios interview. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
The dire consequence?
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said. “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
We can’t yet be 100% certain that these social networks are the most destructive things we’ve ever seen, but we’re certainly reminded of a study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science that examined the relationship between screen time and a surge of teen suicides between 2010-2015, after a steady decline over the two preceding decades. The study found:
— Teens’ use of electronic devices including smartphones for at least five hours daily more than doubled, from 8 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2015. These teens were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
— In 2015, 36 percent of all teens reported feeling desperately sad or hopeless, or thinking about, planning or attempting suicide, up from 32 percent in 2009. For girls, the rates were higher – 45 percent in 2015 versus 40 percent in 2009.
— In 2009, 58% of 12th-grade girls used social media every day or nearly every day; by 2015, 87% used social media every day or nearly every day. They were 14% more likely to be depressed than those who used social media less frequently.
Dr. Victor Strasburger, a teen medicine specialist at the University of New Mexico, said because of the “immediacy, anonymity and potential for bullying, social media has a unique potential for causing real harm.”
We wholeheartedly agree and think this study, and candid comments from former Facebook execs touch on something we’ve all long suspected. The ubiquity of our devices, and worldwide connections, afford us some benefits. But they’re increasingly defined by their enormous dangers.
The best thing parents can do is unplug themselves, and tune in to their kids’ use of smartphones and social media. As Dr. Twenge concludes, knowledge is power and limits are important.
Those are wise old words for a new age.
Or … as Palihapitiya candidly puts it (in social media parlance), “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use this s—t. I can control my kids’ decision, which is that they’re not allowed to use this s—t.”
That appropriate metaphor was carried one step further recently by HBO’s John Oliver. He slammed Facebook, calling the social media monster “a fetid swamp of mistruths and outright lies interspersed with the occasional reminder of a dead pet.”
Oliver went on to explain Facebook’s complicity in aiding and abetting the brutal genocide of Muslim Rohingyans through the spread of murderous misinformation in Myanmar. Oliver cites a United Nations report that says Facebook “has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate.”
When a viewer compares Facebook to a toilet, Oliver retorts, “Calling Facebook a toilet is a little unfair to toilets because they make s—t go away whereas Facebook retains s—t, disseminates s—t to your acquaintances and reminds you of s—t from seven years ago all while allowing corporations to put their s—t in front of you. What I’m saying is, there’s a purity and integrity to toilets that Facebook seriously lacks.”
Absolutely, and Amen!!!
Facebook played a defining role in some of the world’s most breathtaking tragedies – Brexit, the Rohingan genocide, the election of Donald Trump, deadly violence in Sri Lanka and India and Nigeria and Libya, to name a few. The platform is easily weaponized by nefarious actors, from autocrats like Putin and Duterte, to domestic antagonists from white supremacist to antifa. The results are staggeringly destructive.
Facebook is an evil company and the world’s single biggest threat to democracy. We’ve long called on our Congressional delegation to strengthen the protection of privacy data; monitor social media companies as media companies rather than technology platforms; and break up this particular monopolistic behemoth on anti-trust grounds. The government has failed to take action against these predatory beasts so we’re thrilled that Apple is doing something.
In 2016, the Washington Post published some of the basic data points Facebook collects on you. The trove has since grown exponentially but is instructive nonetheless:
Targeting options for Facebook advertisers*
6. Education level
7. Field of study
9. Ethnic affinity
10. Income and net worth
11. Homeownership and type
12. Home value
13. Property size
14. Square footage of home
15. Year home was built
16. Household composition
17. Users who have an anniversary within 30 days
18. Users who are away from family or hometown
19. Users who are friends with someone who has an anniversary, is newly married or engaged, recently moved, or has an upcoming birthday
20. Users in long-distance relationships
21. Users in new relationships
22. Users who have new jobs
23. Users who are newly engaged
24. Users who are newly married
25. Users who have recently moved
26. Users who have birthdays soon
28. Expectant parents
29. Mothers, divided by “type” (soccer, trendy, etc.)
30. Users who are likely to engage in politics
31. Conservatives and liberals
32. Relationship status
35. Job title
36. Office type
38. Users who own motorcycles
39. Users who plan to buy a car (and what kind/brand of car, and how soon)
40. Users who bought auto parts or accessories recently
41. Users who are likely to need auto parts or services
42. Style and brand of car you drive
43. Year car was bought
44. Age of car
45. How much money user is likely to spend on next car
46. Where user is likely to buy next car
47. How many employees your company has
48. Users who own small businesses
49. Users who work in management or are executives
50. Users who have donated to charity (divided by type)
51. Operating system
52. Users who play canvas games
53. Users who own a gaming console
54. Users who have created a Facebook event
55. Users who have used Facebook Payments
56. Users who have spent more than average on Facebook Payments
57. Users who administer a Facebook page
58. Users who have recently uploaded photos to Facebook
59. Internet browser
60. Email service
61. Early/late adopters of technology
62. Expats (divided by what country they are from originally)
63. Users who belong to a credit union, national bank or regional bank
64. Users who investor (divided by investment type)
65. Number of credit lines
66. Users who are active credit card users
67. Credit card type
68. Users who have a debit card
69. Users who carry a balance on their credit card
70. Users who listen to the radio
71. Preference in TV shows
72. Users who use a mobile device (divided by what brand they use)
73. Internet connection type
74. Users who recently acquired a smartphone or tablet
75. Users who access the Internet through a smartphone or tablet
76. Users who use coupons
77. Types of clothing user’s household buys
78. Time of year user’s household shops most
79. Users who are “heavy” buyers of beer, wine or spirits
80. Users who buy groceries (and what kinds)
81. Users who buy beauty products
82. Users who buy allergy medications, cough/cold medications, pain relief products, and over-the-counter meds
83. Users who spend money on household products
84. Users who spend money on products for kids or pets, and what kinds of pets
85. Users whose household makes more purchases than is average
86. Users who tend to shop online (or off)
87. Types of restaurants user eats at
88. Kinds of stores user shops at
89. Users who are “receptive” to offers from companies offering online auto insurance, higher education or mortgages, and prepaid debit cards/satellite TV
90. Length of time user has lived in house
91. Users who are likely to move soon
92. Users who are interested in the Olympics, fall football, cricket or Ramadan
93. Users who travel frequently, for work or pleasure
94. Users who commute to work
95. Types of vacations user tends to go on
96. Users who recently returned from a trip
97. Users who recently used a travel app
98. Users who participate in a timeshare