Zuckerberg may be on trial in the House of Congress since the tenth of April, however the basis of the accusations laid against him are farcical – this is why. The data that any net user generates via their browsing activity is stored locally in their browser histories, but the sites they visit also retain signatures in the form of I.P addresses which are traceable to geographical locations. Any regular user of large scale academic platforms such as academia.edu, who have even glanced at the Analytics tab is well aware of this.
Furthermore, in terms of how this data is monetized – while it is true that downloaded cookies from websites allow site owners to trace clicks and activity on the site itself, the selection is further used to target a given user with advertisements tailored to their preferences. This is a fairly transparent mechanism and has often led to mutually beneficial outcomes for advertisers, users and clients concerned. To explain what a cookie is exactly you should know that they, in essence are simple text files. First developed by a programmer by the name of Lou Montulli in 1994 – they are not a program or a plugin and cannot be used as a virus. They do however register the user ID for pages you may visit. In principle, it is important to note that the only personal information a cookie can harbor is the information you supply yourself.
What is more worrying however is the under the table exploitation that occurs when applicants seek employment in firms such as Google, Facebook or any large platform which can position itself beyond the means of transparent arbitration. The emergence of specialized political ‘consulting’ firms such as Cambridge Analytics whose ‘services’ claim to offer data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process, is the penultimate stage of a process described by renowned Swiss economist Christian Marazzi as the ‘linguistification of the mode of production’ in his book ‘Capital and Language’ published by MIT in 2008. In this book he explains how Capital in moving away from a Fordist economy of the maximization of per unit profits in an economy of scale is now attempting to cut back on the storage costs of stocks via monitoring real time demand evaluated on the bases of sales made in stores or online. This information is available to them via credit card registries which are handled by banks.
The model of such a form of capitalization on not merely our investment choices but also simple linguistic exchanges in exemplified in the hiring strategies utilized by large firms. The Junior hiring team members are often tasked merely to mine applying candidates for their past employer profiles without any real enquiry made into the candidates professional capabilities or an evaluation of their suitability of the job profile in question. Outreach Specialists seem to exemplify the domain of such a position, a profile which Google itself has been advertising for from early December last year.
The junior hiring team members effectively act as mining bots or toll agents who sieve through the candidates who respond to such a call and communicate this information to the higher authority within large companies who weigh what the worth of the prior companies such a candidate has worked for, bears. This form of economic pilfering is the manual procedure which effectively ‘gifts’ your past professional history to large firms posing as employers, and it is merely the automation of this which Facebook and Zuckerberg are being held accountable for. An audit into Facebook’s use of its user’s data will not solve the problem of user privacy as this has reached a stage where it appears to have become a policy for large platforms. What we would effectively require is a judicial intervention backed by an executive order to set a precedent, not merely in the salability or use of user’s data but to ensure that such malpractices do not permeate into hiring procedures utilized by companies. In as much as the Congressional inquiry into Facebook may set such a precedent, it may yet be a progressive step.