The Facebook Guinea Pig Problem



The recent excitement caused by the release of data on what amounted to a societal lab project conducted on a huge random population of facebook users without consent…let alone informed consent a couple of years ago will no doubt be gone from the headlines in a news cycle or two. The fact that Facebook manipulated the news feeds of millions of their users with the intent of finding out how users responded to deliberately positive or negative content, when compared to the other dozens of negative stories surrounding their handling of private data really isn’t that big of a deal.

We have surrendered so many of what we might once have thought of as rights to privacy in recent years.  Our govornment electronically strips us naked every time we fly, the NSA listens to our phone calls and reads our mail, our police routinely abuse the powers given to them and will shoot you dead without much provocation and with no recourse and we really don’t seem to care anymore. So what if Google also reads our mail and Facebook conducts psychological experiments on us? In a climate where our government can act with impunity and has essentially already been bought and by the interest groups with the largest cheque books should we expect better of companies like Facebook. Should we hold them to a level of business behavior which goes above mere compliance with the legal minimum on non criminal activity. The answer appears to be “no.”  The sad fact is that we simply no longer expect our politicians let alone our business leaders to do the right thing.

Facebooks behavior doesn’t appear to be any more criminal than Google or the NSA reading our mail. A few years back our entire economy came perilously close to complete implosion yet essentially almost nobody responsible for that has been held to account.  If you can destroy trillions of dollars of regular peoples savings simply to enhance your quarterly bonus why would anyone expect a company like Facebook to have any kind of conscience. In the tech world this is problem is compounded by the Silicon Valley superiority complex.  There are a great many very smart people in our industry but the culture of intellectual superiority sudden wealth and in some cases fame has engendered means that ethical issues go largely unaddressed. If it’s not strictly illegal then it’s fine. Nobody will be held accountable, nothing will change, we will continue to enjoy the tech toys given to us by our digital masters in the happy knowledge that people who are much smarter than us are looking out for us.

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