Pay­ing with at­ten­tion

Sun.Star Pampanga - - OPINOIOPNINION -

HAVE you tried down­load­ing the data Face­book has on you? A num­ber of Amer­i­can colum­nists did that in re­cent weeks and were sur­prised (some, ap­palled) by how de­tailed the in­for­ma­tion was. Face­book, they learned, kept track of ev­ery friend re­quest they’ve ever ig­nored or de­nied, as well as ev­ery per­son they’ve ever un­friended. It also knew ev­ery ad they had ever clicked, and had a list of com­pa­nies who had their in­for­ma­tion, to do with as they pleased.

You could, of course, delete your Face­book ac­count. Ap­ple co-founder Steve Woz­niak did that in re­sponse to re­ports that third par­ties like Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica had picked up data from mil­lions of FB users, and used that to tar­get them for cer­tain po­lit­i­cal ads. But does delet­ing your ac­count mean that Face­book or the ad­ver­tis­ers it works with would no longer have ac­cess to your in­for­ma­tion? No guar­an­tees there.

When he faced a con­gres­sional in­quiry this week, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg was asked how long the com­pany held on to data af­ter a user had deleted his or her ac­count. He couldn’t say right away, but promised his team “would get back” to Congress on that.

That’s a stark re­minder of how lit­tle con­trol we have over the in­for­ma­tion that we’ve signed over to this tech jug­ger­naut Zucker­berg has built. (Some might call it a techno-im­pe­ri­al­ist jug­ger­naut, but those are the peo­ple whose friend re­quests we’ve i gnor ed.)

You know what in­for­ma­tion would be a real eye-opener from our down­loaded Face­book data? The to­tal time we’ve spent catch­ing up, lurk­ing, read­ing, ar­gu­ing, en­cour­ag­ing, play­ing and ab­sent­mind­edly scrolling through Face­book in the many years we’ve been on it. That in­cludes all the time we spent plant­ing vir­tual pota­toes, laugh­ing at memes, play­ing Scrab­ble with strangers be­cause we wanted to prove we could beat them at their own lan­guage, and tak­ing quizzes that promised to re­veal some­thing new about us to our­selves. And also who among the celebri­ties we re­sem­bled.

Some of the hand-wring­ing Face­book has pro­voked would be funny if it wasn’t so earnest. Per­haps we’re also peeved that Zucker­berg found a way to cash in on the idea that we en­joy see­ing and be­ing seen, which are the same im­pulses that drive cu­rios­ity, at­trac­tion, and con­nec­tion.

Nearly 70 years ago, the nov­el­ist George Or­well warned, “Big Brother is watch­ing you.” He/she/it still is. More than 1,700 satel­lites watch the planet, some of these so pow­er­ful that “from outer space, a cam­era clicks and a de­tailed im­age of the block where we work can be ac­quired by a to­tal stranger,” Robert Draper wrote in a ter­rific ar­ti­cle in the Fe­bru­ary 2018 is­sue of the Na­tional Geo­graphic. As an ex­er­cise, try spot­ting all the closed-cir­cuit TV cam­eras that cap­ture the spa­ces where you work, eat or, yes, watch other peo­ple go by.

Yet the idea that sur­veil­lance is the price we pay for safety has be­come so com­mon­place, that most of us hardly think about how that com­pro­mises our pri­vacy. We even vol­un­teer so much in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia— where we are, what we’re wear­ing, what we’ve bought or eaten— that sur­veil­lance al­most seems re­dun­dant. Our se­crets aren’t al­ways safe with us, it seems.

When this sum­mer started, my 10-year-old nephew asked for a note­book he could use as a jour­nal, and be­ing a sucker for jour­nals and boys who write, I gave in. As soon as he got home, he bored a hole into the jour­nal and placed a tiny pad­lock, the kind one uses for lug­gage, in it, so his brother wouldn’t read what he had writ­ten.

(Or find out who his lat­est crush was.) I be­gan to see then why I haven’t mus­tered the nerve to down­load my Face­book data just yet. All the at­ten­tion I’ve paid or asked for, all those fri­vol­i­ties I’ve made vis­i­ble: am I ready to see all that again? Who knows what I might find?— Isolde D. Amante

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