Why aren’t you Facebook’s customer?

More than a year under COVID, and I have felt some frustration lately. Each time the anxiety strikes, I wonder what it must have been like back in 1918. Imagine the Spanish flu without our miraculous communication. Nobody knowing what it was while millions of people died.

We live in an age of overwhelming information. There is much too much to consume if we want to do something worthwhile with our lives.

It doesn’t take long to exhaust everything that Netflix has. Facebook seems to offer an unlimited supply of novelty. It doesn’t.

I remain stunned at how people I know in real life look like strangers on Facebook. It’s not just their images. It’s the fiction about the reality of their lives. Everybody looks better than me. Everyone makes more money than me, has better prospects than me, has better children. You get the picture.

Facebook exposed 533 million user accounts two years ago. They found out about it last week. They are not going to tell us whose details they revealed. They say they don’t know.

Yet, this is the same company which

  • tells advertisers they can find one person in a billion,
  • looking for a particular item,
  • right now,
  • in orange,
  • for delivery to Cape Town,
  • next week,
  • who’s had three wives,
  • and sired four children,
  • lives alone,
  • et cetera.

Yet they cannot tell you if they lost your details two years ago.

How can that be true?

If something to good to be true is free, you are the product. Facebook is free to users because they extract swathes of information about you. They use your past choices to target adverts at you. An unending stream of the kind of stuff you’ve already shown you like.

You don’t pay Facebook. They don’t care. You are their product, not their customer. Businesses who target adverts at you paid Facebook $85 billion in 2020. (That’s ZAR 1,240 billion back then.) That’s one-third of South Africa’s GDP last year. Those businesses are Facebook’s customers.

No wonder they’re not interested in telling 10% of their users how they lost their details. Again.

Forgive me for feeling like a cow in a feedlot. I feel I am being fattened before ending up in minced meat packets on a Pick n Pay shelf.

The POPI law is governments attempt to restrict how much information firms like Facebook harvest and what they do with it. I think that makes sense.

It’s lovely to think that we are anonymous online. We aren’t.

Updated January 5, 2022

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