Facebook’s Influence

Facebook’s Influence

Update, March 25:  These revelations are too big for an incremental update.  The Washington Post just revealed that in the 2014 election, at least 20 foreigners from Cambridge Analytica were participating in state elections at decision making jobs, despite being legally warned that this was not allowed.  Furthermore, they entered on non-work visas.  Rebecca Mercer, a key Trump funder, was President of Cambridge Analytica at the time, and Steve Bannon was Vice President, and boy, was this vice.  CEO was the now infamous Alexander Nix, a Briton.   The foreigners were from Britain, Canada, and other European countries.  Cambridge Analytica also worked for a super PAC run by John Bolton, our newly appointed National Security Advisor.  Bye Bye John!  Is this why Trump kept saying that interference in our elections might not be Putin but other Europeans?  Fortunately for Republicans, they control Congress, and will not seriously investigate the misdoings of the Republicans involved.  The Trump campaign paid at least $6 million to Cambridge Analytica, where Nix claimed credit for the Trump win.  Drop mike.

Updates:  for a while, I am just going to update and advance the information about Facebook, by just using this one article.

Marc Zuckerberg’s point in establishing Facebook was to form a social network, where everybody’s personality would be open to the world. In practice, he gave a worldwide website to everybody. But it was done in a way to start with totally open access to personal data, which one had to work on to privatize data that you wanted private. Then came the investors, the board, the business leadership, all of whom were trained and dedicated to concept of MONETIZE, MONETIZE, MONETIZE. Their stock drop today, March 22, is 2.66% along with the rest of the market, after Trump announced $60 billion of tariffs explicitly against China.  FB, Facebook, now has a stock evaluation of $479 billion.  In four days the stock has dropped from 185 to 165, or 10.8%.

Friends, likes, preferences, shares, approvals are all shared with friends or public to influence all of your friends to buy products or services with your invaluable personal approval and advertising. Facebook, like ALL web services, use all of your Big Data to target ads to you, which they earn money for. All Cambridge Analytica did was to automate this data gathering for themselves, as any user could do one friend by one friend.  Update, March 22, Mark Zuckerberg seem to describe in an interview that Facebook just gave the data to Alexander Kogan, who shared it with Cambridge Analytica, to use for profit, somehow violating the rules.  Mark said that they stopped this in 2014, and had Analytica sign a document that they had erased the data.  I am nobody to lecture on this, but for a $500 billion company who relies on the exclusive ownership of its data to make a profit, not to check up on this sounds really irresponsible.  Now Facebook has to worry about all the people they gave data to, and whether that data has been copied and sold.  On March 22, claimed founder of Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, said Facebook’s data was for sale around the world, implying that that is how they got it.

Zuckerberg was talking quite generally, without any detailed clarifications.  Clearly, if you are being sued, you don’t surrender any discoveries.  Facebook has to check thousands of apps to which, I guess, they gave or sold data to.  Kogan also has an appointment at St. Petersburg University.  March 23rd, we learn that Facebook sent two employees to work with Kogan.  Ted Cruz also used Cambridge Analytica in his failed campaign.

Many questions need to be asked.  Do the Russians have this data, and did they use it in their influence campaign?  Why was this company formed by Bannon in Cambridge England, rather than Cambridge Massassachusetts?  Was the data used to influence the BRexit vote?  Was it used in the British elections?

The possible illegality of this use, may just be that Cambridge Analytica was, by its name even, a foreign company interfering in a US election. This would apply to any Brits working on this. Also, the funder, Robert Mercer, did not list this as a campaign contribution.

This weakness in Facebook is obvious, and many would eventually gather this data. The threat to Facebook is not what it was legally used for, but that they weren’t paying Facebook for their use of the data, which is a challenge to their bottom line, as well as future stock projections.

Of the 57 million users data gathered, 30 million were Americans.  We don’t know the adult voting amount.  In the 2016 election, 139 million Americans voted, or 60.2% of the voting-eligible population of 231 million.  In 2014, their were 245 million US adults.  Trump in 2016 won the electoral college with 63 million votes, while Clinton got 66 million.  The three key and unexpected rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were won by Trump with less than a 1% lead.  Trump took the third largest state, Florida, by only 1.3%.

In July last year, Forbes said Zuckerberg was the world’s 5th richest person, worth $73 billion dollars. We always like to provide a scale. For Facebook’s 2.2 billion worldwide users, this is $33 per user, not a big drain on our budget.

In the four recent quarters Q3-16 to Q2-17, Facebook earned $33.1 billion. That is $15 per worldwide user. Considering that you get a worldwide website with all possible bells and whistles, that is really a bargain at only $1.25 a month, or 4 cents a day. By comparison, I pay about $50 per month for cable internet access.

Considering the basic Republican running positions on: jobs, tax cuts, and fear of foreigners by race and religion, the deep research seems like a waste of money. Considering that Trump got 90% of the Republican vote, it also didn’t matter. Considering you had a candidate that spent his life selling to people, who was also a TV star, detailed research wasn’t really needed. Considering that you had a self-admitted female assaulters on this third marriage, still supported by evangelicals, nothing mattered.

If Facebook really wanted to atone for any sins, it should allow a non-partisan set of scholars to use its data to find out how such a destructive president could be elected.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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