So, here’s the thing: everyone that has some sort of window to the world around them has been made aware of the Facebook data scandal that’s connected to Cambridge Analytica. Rivers of ink have already poured from journalists’ metaphorical fountain pens. However, let’s be honest: what real impact has this had on peoples’ minds and overall level of comfort with debatable practices and data maintenance or access? What real impact is this having in the grand scheme of things, period?
Facebook exited its 1Q 2018 with record-setting numbers, for one. It just goes to show the entrenched fortress that Facebook has become, the efficiency of its advertising machine, the gargantuan state of dependency and the strength of network effects, of traction, as she put it – everyone (well, not this editor) has one, and thus no-one wants to be left out. Even things as simple as how easy it is to login and register for different services by connecting a Facebook account leads people to stay – and thus the status quo is maintained. The $11.97 billion in revenue with $1.69 EPS that Facebook achieved in its Q1 report, alongside the increase in 48M daily active users should give everyone pause. Is this becoming a case of being too big to fail? What would be required for such a scenario to manifest itself? What sort of betrayal of customers’ trust?
However bad will has been levied at Facebook, the reduced stock price and lower earnings per user have been faced as – and effectively are – no more than small bumps on the road. Mr. Zuckerberg has even announced some steps that a cynical person might see as smoke and mirrors to carry users’ attention away from the current issues: the new Facebook dating features. These, which could bring Facebook the added weight of a Tinder-like feature, will be a true test for user confidence on the system… Or so it’s being hailed. I, for one, have no doubts that it’s a long planned feature, that has just found the perfect timing to be announced and eventually implemented, sucking in users even more than it already has. The consequences? To be diluted in new features and a perceived dependency of Facebook’s network effects – not unlike what was seen in Mr. Zuckerberg’s hearing. He did bring a suit, though.
Which brings me to the firestarter of this small editorial: the situation with Cambridge Analytica. The company has recently filed for bankruptcy, but really, we all know how this works even before it’s spelled out: a company like that, which was so successful until the lid was blown, just doesn’t go under the water of its own will. No – it morphs; its management moves on to greener, newer pastures, moving along their connections, resources, market and client knowledge, and set up shop somewhere else, looking to continue their ways. It’s true: Cambridge Analytica is dead. One face of it, at least. The other has emerged as Emerdata, a new company that has been set up in the last few months by Cambridge Analytica’s top executives. When your name is tainted and lawsuits loom, you can always just declare yourself dead and get a new identity. Saves so much trouble, doesn’t it?
According to The New York times, Emerdata has been populated by Cambridge Analytica’s (and parent company SCL) biggest investors, and brought in “talent” from their skeletons. According to the NYT’s sources, re-branding Cambridge Analytica was the plan, with Nigel Oakes, an executive and partner of SCL Group, having publicly described Emerdata as “a way of rolling up SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica into one company”. Alexander Nix, a former CEO of Cambridge Analytica (who was caught on tape talking about bribing and blackmailing politicians, and who resigned a few weeks ago alongside other SCL Group executives), has also joined Emerdata. So much for shaking the status-quo. So, long live Cambridge Analytica?
The European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that enters into effect as early as May 28th is a definite step in the right direction towards enforcing responsible business practices and data collection – and storage – from companies. If they fail to abide to the transaparency that’s required by the Regulation – or fail to admit the “right to be fogotten” or furnishing consumers their own data – companies can be fined up to 4% of annual global revenue (or up to €20 million, whichever limit is hit first).
And as much as it will likely become a spearhead for similar regulations across the world – old Facebook themselves have pledged to extend GDPR’s requirements and directives globally, though “not exactly” – the fact remains that user choice is the ultimate protest. Drying the income well by making a conscious effort to stay informed and think through the data disclosure consent forms that pop up every so often in a new app update or some such is the best way to remain critical and alert, and now allowing oneself to become mere numbers in a datasheet.
But maybe that ship has sailed. Maybe the solution is trying and creating a stronger network effect of choosing not to partake in shady business practices and data collection scandals – that would likely be the best way to make companies change. People are more than consumers, and consumers should be more than numbers.