Posted in Spotlight
March 28, 2018 | 4 minute read

Can I trust Facebook anymore?

For a start, let me get a few things straight. I do have a Facebook account, my wife has one and I am sure, my two young daughters will soon want their own accounts as well.

And, to be honest, so far, it has served me well.
I think I am one of those ‘old-school’ users, rather a reader, then a writer. Happy to discover and connect to old pals and, from time to time, posting a note, providing some ‘copy-paste’ wisdom or let the world simply know that daughter No.2 has safely arrived. I am not a Facebook fan, but after all, I like it. And it’s for free.

We should however be equally clear what Facebook is about: in terms of impact on perception and social behavior, it is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful company in the world. The recent debate on the role of Facebook in the Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the underlying problem: Facebook has built, obviously for advertising purposes, the most powerful ‘Opinion-Machine’ of the world. Now, it simply has been mis-used for propaganda. This alone deserves endless discussions, but in my view does not uncover the ‘real issue’.

Isn’t the fundamental problem, that Facebook simply didn’t care, at least until the end of 2016. A third party leveraged their mighty platform for manipulation and Facebook appeared not to have done anything. Why?


Can you trust Facebook anymore?

Trust? A big word. I trust my family, because I know, that they want the best for me, no matter the cost. But Facebook is a commercial firm. No different than BMW, McDonalds or Axa. A company that aims to satisfy its investors. And investors demand growth. Growth of shareholder value, growth of dividends, growth of their invested money. And Facebook is doing well for its investors. Very well indeed. And that is fine, there is no harm to that. This model of capital allocation in a free market has been the bedrock of our global business and financial successes. So, can I trust a commercial firm that eventually only aims to deliver to its investors?

I think you can, if your interests are aligned with those of the company. But this is where data comes into the picture. Facebook’s model is simple: (a) Gather as much data as possible about you, (b) build the most accurate profile of you and (c) offer ad-space best tailored to you. Everything Facebook does has to do with your information and data. The entire business model is built on that. And clearly, Facebook is not the only one. In spring 2018, the most valued companies feature Google, Amazon, Alibaba or Tencent. Face it, the most valued business model today is based on owning your information and data.

YOUR information and YOUR data

it may sound a bit pathetic, but the fact that you are a successful lawyer, divorced, recently re-engaged, with a pregnant fiancé and looking for a larger apartment outside of Berlin is simply none of my business. But we know, that for the right people, these data are worth a lot. But who owns these data?

Well, if I meet you on the street, invite you for dinner and we are having a marvelous evening discussion about our lives: we both had our benefit, you received a free dinner, had a good time and I received lots of information about you. The dominant data model today feels pretty much like that: click here, accept the T&Cs and there you go, enjoy the free services. Well, enjoy the services, nothing is for free.

One can question, how harmful it can be, that Google or Facebook know this or that about me, but what if the data is not static anymore, but real-time and contextual. So, you are not only a recently engaged lawyer and upcoming father looking for a new place, but suddenly become a high-likelihood alcoholic, because you usually spend at least two hours per day in well-known drinking spot and right-now, your heart-rate indicates you are still drunk. Maybe that is something, you wouldn’t have shared with me at our dinner. And now imagine, that information is owned by an insurance company.

“This is not about trust. It is about control.”

The pace of technological advancements will continue, and IoT devices will become more and more ubiquitous. The value of information and data will increase and to me, there is no question: these are YOUR information and data, and our mission must be to find a way to empower all of us to decide, which data are shared with whom for which reason.

Just, as you would do at dinner !

– Utena Treves, VP Business Development & Strategy, wefox Group

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