Facebook’s Self Made Theatre of the Absurd Just Got Weirder

By Peter Coroneos*, CyAN Head of APAC Region

– The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CyAN –

 

From Cambridge Analytica to Bedroom Mazurka — The Ethical Boundaries of Human Tolerance Take Another Step into the Abyss

Call it audacity, diversion or sheer opportunism, but the announcement that Facebook will enter the multi-billion dollar dating game caught just about everyone by surprise. Me included.

Not that the idea isn’t entirely logical or feasible.  I’m sure that the business case was easy to make, with its 200 million self-categorised singles surely a market too good to miss.

“So clearly there’s something to do here” proclaimed Mark Zuckerberg, assuming that this is a problem to be solved.

Not just hookups mind you, but long term relationships. The coders are already hard at work, weighting our variables and tabulating our characteristics.

Having visited Facebook HQ in 2008 before it went stellar, before my kids even knew what it was, I can still see the ranks of software engineers, hundreds of them, jammed at their desks, separated only by winding blue skeins of Cat. 5 cable, algorithmically imagining human love – while the marketers, huddled in their glass rooms debate the monetisation thereof.

I couldn’t help smile at the irony given Facebook started life as a dorm room fantasy, a rating system (no less) for college girls based on “hotness”, before it went legit. What are we to make of this? Has the company circled back to its roots?

Sam Langford from junked.com nailed the obvious PR challenge: “Because getting even more personal data from people is gonna go down a treat right now.”

We are assured however, that privacy will be paramount. Fresh off the congressional spit-roast that was MZ’s testimony, the ever-optimistic Facebook User #1, crowed delight while he delighted the crowd with the unlimited possibilities of merging big data analytics with the most fundamental human need. You could almost hear him saying: “It’s nothing less than our duty to do this for the world”, overpopulation aside.**

As one wag tweeted “Facebook gonna marry you to the Russian spambot of your dreams”, referencing the degree to which automated messaging from a digital friend could in fact be a machine in a server farm in a former Soviet state run by the same people that believe in their democratic right to deprive you of your bitcoin and disrupt other people’s elections.

When you’ve finished reading this piece, search for “10 ways to tell if your new Facebook friend is a spam bot”. It’s poignant when you get to this part:

“When real life love dries up, you can often find some kind of solace in the correspondence you shared with your inamorata when the flame of your love burned brightest… [but] the beautiful words of your love may be replaced with the dreaded phrase, This message is no longer available because it was identified as abusive or marked as spam, which might be the coldest break-up note a man can receive.”

If you’ve seen the movie Ex Machina, it is said the reclusive main character who is developing humanoid love-robots is part based on the Facebook chief. The character, Nathan Bates, is described by one film critic as “a man who aspires to put himself at the centre of creation”.

Hmm, the Centre of Creation, “clearly something to do here”, spam bots. You see what’s happening here, people? You see? We are sleepwalking into a world where machines will decide who you meet, what you think, how you vote, and what will make you happy.

Technology, like fire, is a good servant but a bad master.  And when unelected corporations become more powerful than governments, when accountability equals shareholder value, when privacy is a long forgotten concept, when ‘friend’ and ‘like’ and ‘love’ and ’truth’ and ‘community’ and ‘relationship’ all become mere metrics for investor meetings, will we look back at this day and ask: At what point did we let our humanity slip away?

_____

**on the other hand if we end up marrying robots, the population problem will be solved.

 

As CEO of the Internet Industry Association from 1997-2011, Peter Coroneos has championed best practice across a range of issues, from privacy to cybersecurity to child protection. By ministerial appointment he served two terms on the Privacy Advisory Committee, a panel of experts advising government on emerging social and technological threats to privacy. Peter was a prime mover in the passage of Australia’s anti-spam laws, heralded as the strongest in the world, which removed Australia from the top 20 list of spamming nations. He also helped secure major amendments to the Privacy Act which brought the private sector under its remit. He twice represented industry at APEC on standards for privacy protection throughout the Asia Pacific. Peter was twice invited to the White House to advise the Obama Administration on cybersecurity policy. He is now Regional Head for the global Cybersecurity Advisors Network.(www.cyan.international)

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