Loss Of Privacy’s A Humanity Tax

Ryan Skinner
Senior Analyst
July 19, 2018

People are pragmatic, and they predictably think they’re rational — which is great. It’s been reported pretty extensively that the Russian government interfered in the last US presidential election. It’s not a stretch to say that most Trump voters would acknowledge Russian interference as a fact. It’s also unlikely any of them would acknowledge that Russian interference affected their vote: “It may have helped swing the election. It didn’t sway me, though.” They like to think they’re rational and immune to influence. The same goes for the UK Brexit vote: “Sure, Vote Leave cheated and lied . . . didn’t influence my vote.”

This plays into our natural human pragmatism. Trump and Brexit appealed to some people. They won. It’s pragmatic to conclude that you’re not bothered by nefarious influence as long as it did not influence you and led to a result you support. Trump haters and UK Remainers have the same pragmatism.

There’s a vanishingly small minority of individuals who will say, “I’m a weak and fallible human and probably suffer sometimes or often when my belief in my own rationality is used against me by bad actors.” Carry the same thinking over to the world of Facebook, privacy, and Facebook leavers.

Facebook’s ongoing prosperity rests on two beliefs that are kind of, sort of contradictory:

  1. Advertisers must believe that Facebook’s access to users’ personal data drives disproportionate influence.
  2. Facebook users must believe that they do not suffer from advertisers’ ability to target them on FB.

By the look of things, both beliefs are in rude health:

Facebook Users Not Revolting

Facebook Advertisers Believing

My guess: Facebook users are pragmatic. They ask themselves: “What’s to lose? I don’t care which ads Facebook pushes at me because I’ll either ignore it (if it’s crap) or I’ll like it, and then where’s the problem?” That’s the perceived downside. The upside is everything else they get from Facebook.

This is typically when someone suggests that the government should enact legislation to protect citizens who don’t think they’re being hurt but who actually are. It makes sense, but — for such legislation to gain popular support — you return to needing to convince voters that they actually need protection. The EU managed this, but I’m not sure European citizens were actually convinced. Would a rampant Democratic party after midterm wins generate enough support for it? I’m honestly not sure.

(Oh, and guess what? Compared to social media, there’s only one entity that even more people say they’re not at all confident about protecting their data . . . )

( . . . the feds!)

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