German Politicians Make Themselves Complicit

Trading with data and the questionable dealings with it were always the trademarks of Zuckerberg. Politicians have been looking on for far too long.

Mark Zuckerberg has broken his silence. He asked for pardon and promised improvement. With this, he did the unavoidable, because in the face of furious politicians and ill-humored investors hardly any other choice remained for him. Even one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the world must face his social responsibility sooner or later, especially when he claims that he influentially shapes this society.

A good year ago, Zuckerberg underscored this claim when, in reaction to the U.S. election of Donald Trump, Brexit and burgeoning xenophobia, he descended into brooding about whether his network was actually creating more good than bad. In a manifesto, he stated how he intended to rebuild Facebook so that it would promote a society of openness and solidarity. He signaled that he recognized that some things were going wrong in his network.

Anyone, however, who watched the representatives of his company after that in U.S. Senate hearings got the impression that they had no interest in clearing up the role of Facebook in the U.S. election. In the meantime, his top colleague, Sheryl Sandberg, was jetting around the globe and praising, as at an appearance in Cologne, the beautiful, safe and sound Facebook world.

It’s all over with this safe and sound world. Since it became known that the data of 50 million users were misused, Facebook has come under fire. At first, the firm tried to portray itself as a victim, but it is not. The incident instead shows the disregard for data protection and privacy that Zuckerberg previously openly touted.

Namely, the data was not simply stolen from Facebook. Instead, until 2015, the firm allowed developers of Facebook games to not only be able to collect data on the users of the games but also on the friends of these players. To be sure, there were rules connected to that, but one had to assume that these would be broken one day.

It is fitting that the company that sinned was Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked for Trump, a man who has engaged in dirty business his whole life. Cambridge Analytica acquired data collected from an app that had users answer psychological questions under the pretext of science. This data was combined with further data to address people with individual messages as carefully targeted as possible on a psychological level.

The Environment of Cambridge Analytica

The word from Cambridge Analytica is that they wanted to awaken the “inner demons” of people. That’s how they like to speak there, because of the purported secrecy, the uncanniness fuels the myth of the firm that advertises itself as having decided the U.S. election in favor of Trump with seemingly magical methods.

In fact, even manufacturers of dog and cat food very effectively use psychographic targeting to reach the hearts of pet owners with individualized messages. And that is not even so new. All along, a salesman who recognized the exact needs of his customers and knew to address them made successful deals.

Now, this principle is being applied to internet advertising with the help of data. Facebook is the tool for that. It collects data; it sells data. And it keeps users in line so that they deliver more data and consume more advertising. That is the Facebook culture, and it took a scandal to recognize it.

Integral Part of Social Life

Protection of privacy recognizes four basic principles: As little data as possible should be compiled; those affected must know what data is being collected, must give their permission, and the purpose for which it will be used must be clear. It is apparent that this spirit of privacy protection is being disregarded by Facebook.

Whoever now argues that users are on Facebook voluntarily is making it too easy for himself. The network has become an integral part of social life. Birthday invitations and news are distributed over the network, help groups and social movements organize themselves on Facebook and, ultimately, family members, friends, relatives and acquaintances communicate there.

Politics must acknowledge this reality. From it arises the responsibility to not expose its citizens to the capriciousness of a firm that decides on a whim which photos are censored on its site and which are not, which social activities are promoted and which are not. Instead, this must apply: Whoever wants to do business in Germany must abide by German laws. And as long as the federal government and representatives in the Bundestag [German Parliament] just look on, they are making themselves complicit in every scandal.

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