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*

1. Location

2. Age

3. Generation

4. Gender

5. Language

6. Education level

7. Field of study

8. School

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

27. Parents

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

33. Employer

34. Industry

35. Job title

36. Office type

37. Interests

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

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(1) comment

Eddy R. Woodchuck III

Good letter but in your praise of Apple you forgot about all the slaves in China they exploit in what you refer to as Apple being a great light to lead the world.

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