Verica Rupar: Zuckerberg's apology is not enough

Verica Rupar: Zuckerberg's apology is not enough
Photo credit: Getty.

OPINION: Facebook's apology over the Cambridge Analytica scandal ran as an ad in the major American and British newspapers last weekend.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said:

"This was a breach of trust, and I'm sorry we didn't do more at the time. We're now taking steps to make sure this doesn't happen again".

The massive data misuse story, a masterpiece of investigative journalism carried out by Carol Cadwalladr and published by the Observer, reads as a thriller, but has the force of an earthquake.

First comes the power of technological giants. Since 2008, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple (GAFA), have added more market capitalisation than the GDP of India.

In the shadow of the seductive narrative of innovation, disruption and rapid growth, GAFA created an oligopoly without the security of check and balances.

Cambridge Analytica could use the personal data of 50 million Facebook users, because the Graph API, a programming tool designed to provide more access to the conventions on the FB social media platform, allowed people to build apps for harvesting data.

Some raised the question of digital surveillance but few paid any attention.

Then comes the trade off. We signed in for getting the connective magic, they signed in for getting our data.

Some shouted against free cultural labour, filter bubbles, echo chambers, but hey, does it really matter? Facebook's repositories of personal memories grow faster and faster.

More importantly, our decision to join Facebook in no time became our application to navigating through the digital world. Our ID. Our digital passport.

You sign in with a Facebook account and you travel and stay at an Airbnb, watch a movie on Netflix, go on Tinder or Spotify. Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, how many of them are interlinked?

The beauty of one click. Now we know a click that pulls the information for Trump campaigners, Brexiters 'leave' activists and Putin's allies. New Zealand's link is still to be revealed.

Seeing the Cambridge Analytica story as a story about the misuse of information opens up the full scale of a scandal.

Powerful data concentrated in the hands of few giant digital companies who are not subject to the same scrutiny as the rest of business has been a worry for some time.

But the 50 million Facebook users' data transfer is more than a worry.

It is an open call to start a debate about who collects, evaluates, and trades our data in a digital world. Zuckerberg's ad pledge "I promise to do better for you" is simply not enough.

Dr Verica Rupa is an Associate Professor at AUT’s School of Communications Studies.

Carol Cadwalladr is coming to New Zealand in September, she will be a keynote speaker at the "Journalism, media and surveillance" conference hosted  by the Auckland University of Technology, JMAD Research Centre.

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