Facebook needs to fundamentally change to fix its worst problems
During the second day of Facebook’s congressional hearings, one congresswoman asked Mark Zuckerberg exactly the right question, but as far as the Facebook CEO is concerned, there is no answer.
“Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?” Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat serving in Palo Alto, California, asked.
“Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means,” Zuckerberg responded.
Facebook, as it stands, is a corporation built to mine user data and serve advertisements based on that data. Left mostly unchecked, it has allowed your personal information to be mishandled by shady organizations without direct consent, and it has amplified election-morphing propaganda and crazed voices in your News Feed.
If our primary concerns are user privacy, ad-targeting, and political malfeasance — as you would think, based on the questioning from politicians over the past two days — then the product itself is fundamentally broken. Facebook’s News Feed and the business model it enables really can’t be bent to make anyone feel better about any of this. At the core, the service is about taking in personal data, through your posts, photographs, and social connections, and algorithmically distributing content based on that data.
Privacy and discretion are antithetical to Facebook’s profit model. The company made nearly $16 billion in pure profit last year; almost all of it came from advertising.
So, Rep. Eshoo (who we should say has reportedly accepted nearly $40,000 in campaign contributions from Facebook over the past four years) was completely right to ask if the social network would change its business model to protect its users. It’s the only thing that will put these particular worries to rest, short of regulation or other interventions.
Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg dodged the question. Of course, we couldn’t expect him to announce an overhaul of his product in the middle of a Congressional hearing. But we also shouldn’t expect that much will change afterward, either.
We’d say you could just go ahead and delete your account if you’re pissed about all of this, but Facebook has plenty of ways to track you outside of its apps. Which is exactly why all of this is fundamentally worth sorting out, and why it will be such a shame if (or when) these hearings pass without any specific action.