One who engages in social media, or even owns a cell phone, the notion of privacy is certainly not an absolute; it is at best a question of degree.
We think of a violation of privacy as being personally exposed or compromised but when information is collected en masse, it is our institutions and our political systems along with our personal status that we must consider.
The recent revelation that Cambridge Analytica “harvested” the Facebook information of 50 million Americans and used the information to influence those Americans political decisions, which ultimately influenced the outcome of the US election, is indeed evidence of a strange new world.
Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting company based in Britain, which uses a witches brew of data mining, data brokerage and analysis as a strategy to influence the electoral process.
We used to see the processes in which Cambridge Analytica engages as extremely covert, a form of sophisticated espionage.
However, while the company misrepresented itself, it originally gained access from Facebook users who willingly signed up to the company’s app.
And while the company harvesting Facebook users information may not have been a “data breach”in the typical sense, those users were trespassed upon, their information commandeered and used in a manner to which they had not agreed.
Not being a typical “data breach,” does not make the manoeuvrings of Cambridge any less of an ethical breach.
Collecting unsuspecting people’s information and then using that information to manipulate those people’s political perspective is sinister.
While paranoia regarding Russia interference in democratic elections may be well founded, Russia is by no means the only sinister entity lurking behind the phone or tablet screen.
There is also the enemy inside the gates with the auspicious name of Cambridge, a name synonymous with something well established and trustworthy, especially when that entity is based in Britain.
At one time, it may have seemed an abstraction or an exaggeration to say that information is power but currently it certainly is and I might add information is also money.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook share some culpability in Cambridge’s collection of user data, because at the very least, they did not practice due diligence.
Having waited almost a week following the Cambridge revelation, Zuckerberg made a statement saying something as vacuous as “we can do better.”
It is the common tack these days in business and politics to offer some halfhearted, vague admission of wrongdoing and a promise to correct the situation only when negligence or transgressions come to light.
In the rapidly changing world of technology and social media, to young people Facebook is passé.
To the younger demographic Facebook is a platform where one is more lightly to cross paths with one’s parents than encounter likeminded people of their own generation or participate in the exchange innovative ideas.
So, it is reasonable to assume, that the information gathered from Facebook was not gleaned from impressionable, guileless young people but from more entrenched individuals who are nonetheless extremely guileless.
This exposé of Cambridge Analytica makes a famous phrase of Friedrick Nietzsche seem all the more prescient: “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee” said the great philosopher.
Given the sinister objectives of Cambridge Analytica, the internet now seems a fitting metaphor for the abyss, and having gazed into the web obsessively it seems that it is now gazing into us.