When Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, he tried to describe the difference between “surveillance and what we do.” “The difference is extremely clear,” a nervous-looking Zuckerberg said. “On Facebook, you have control over your information… the information we collect you can choose to have us not collect.”
But not a single member of the committee pushed the billionaire CEO about surveillance companies who exploit the data on Facebook for profit. Forbes has uncovered one case that might shock them: over the last five years a secretive surveillance company founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer has been quietly building a massive facial recognition database consisting of faces acquired from the giant social network, YouTube and countless other websites. Privacy activists are suitably alarmed.
Would being asked to pay Facebook to remove ads make you appreciate their value or resent them even more? As Facebook considers offering an ad-free subscription option, there are deeper questions than how much money it could earn. Facebook has the opportunity to let us decide how we compensate it for social networking. But choice doesn’t always make people happy.
In February I explored the idea of how Facebook could disarm data privacy backlash and boost well-being by letting us pay a monthly subscription fee instead of selling our attention to advertisers. The big takeaways were: Mark Zuckerberg insists that Facebook will remain free to everyone, including those who can’t afford a monthly fee, so subscriptions would be an opt-in alternative to ads rather than a replacement that forces everyone to pay Partially decoupling the business model from maximizing your total time spent on Facebook could let it actually prioritize time well spent because it wouldn’t have to sacrifice ad revenue The monthly subscription price would need to offset Facebook’s ad earnings. In the US & Canada Facebook earned $19.9 billion in 2017 from 239 million users. That means the average user there would have to pay $7 per month.
However, my analysis neglected some of the psychological fallout of telling people they only get to ditch ads if they can afford it, the loss of ubiquitous reach for advertisers, and the reality of which users would cough up the cash. Though on the other hand, I also neglected the epiphany a price tag could produce for users angry about targeted advertising.
Surprise! Russian-born Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan has ties to St. Petersburg and did work for the Russian oil firm Lukoil (if not others). He claims he’s just a scapegoat but he certainly is looking more and more like a key player in Russian election meddling.
I wonder how North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis feels about getting elected with potentially Russian help?
Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties to a Russian university, including a teaching position and grants for research into the social media network, the Observer has discovered. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with – which funded the project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon – also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.Energy firm Lukoil, which is now on the US sanctions list and has been used as a vehicle of government influence, saw a presentation on the firm’s work in 2014. It began with a focus on voter suppression in Nigeria, and Cambridge Analytica also discussed “micro-targeting” individuals on social media during elections.The revelations come at a time of intense US scrutiny of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, with 13 Russians criminally charged last month with interfering to help Donald Trump.
In Britain, concerns about Russian propaganda have been mounting, with the prime minister, Theresa May, recently attacking Russia for spreading fake news, accusing Moscow of attempts to “weaponise information” and influence polls.
Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil company, discussed with Cambridge Analytica the data company’s powerful social media marketing system, which was already being deployed for Republican Ted Cruz in the US presidential primaries and was later used to back Brexit and Trump.
In a video published online in September, a social scientist named Alex Spectre made an earnest pitch for his new startup.Clad in the Silicon Valley uniform of open-collar shirt and blazer, Spectre boasted that his company – Philometrics – would revolutionise the way online surveys were done, making it easier for companies to design questionnaires that people would actually respond to on Facebook, Twitter or other sites.
Crucially, he said, the surveys could predict the responses for large groups from a small number of respondents and micro-target ads better.”The reality is working with big data, social media is incredibly difficult,” said Spectre, who more commonly goes by Aleksandr Kogan, which he uses in his role as a Cambridge University researcher.
“You want to work with people who have a lot of experience. You want to connect with people who have been working with these massive data sets.”
Kogan would know. On Friday (March 16), he was suspended by Facebook Inc. for his earlier work mining data on what the New York Times reported was as many as 50 million Facebook users and sharing it with Cambridge Analytica, a political-advertising firm that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election.