I can’t find the Facebook update but a few months ago, Frederick Ombako, a good friend of mine and one of our writers here at Kachwanya.com, updated his Facebook status asking whether Facebook had acquired mind reading ability. According to Mr. Ombako, he had been thinking about a particular item most of the day and when he logged in into his Facebook, Facebook bombarded him with ads on the item he had been thinking about. Comments on the status update by his friends suggested that he wasn’t the only one who had experienced the same feeling.
The feeling that Facebook knows what you are thinking is not limited to Facebook. Early yesterday I was on my bed wondering, “is it true that US is actually the most popular country in the world? Or could it be it is just popular in English speaking countries? Is not true that English is not the most popular language globally?” Then I took to Google and typed, “The most popular” and as usual, Google completed my sentence with a list of suggestions as shown in the image below. I wondered, “how did Google know that I was thinking about countries?”
These seeming mind reading abilities by Facebook and Google are happening at a time when everyone is going berserk about the revelation that Cambridge Analytica mined Facebook user data and used that data to orchestrate political campaigns in several countries globally, including in the Kenyan 2017 Presidential elections. The accusation against Cambridge Analytica is that the company used algorithms to mine data from Facebook users, up to over 50 million of them, to know their likes, religious, political, social, and other interests. With this data at hand, the company went ahead to structure campaign ads targeting these users with political messages. In Kenya for example Cambridge Analytica was able to target Raila haters with anti-Raila hate messages, which many have argued swayed those who hated Raila into turning up to vote against the man. Right now Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are being crucified both in tribunals and in the courts of public opinion for their use of user data without direct consent of the users.
Alright, so Cambridge Analytica obtained my data without my consent and used that data to campaign for Uhuru Kenyatta on my Facebook Timeline. Do I think that helped Uhuru Kenyatta to win unfairly? No, I don’t. The use of Facebook data is not something that was a secret. That is, it is not like Cambridge Analytica entered into a secret pact with Facebook for Facebook to allow CA mine data from Facebook users for unfair targeted ads. Rather, anyone with the right tools to gather necessary data can do so to target particular group of Facebook users with tailored messages. Actually, one doesn’t need to hire Cambridge Analytica to achieve this. As a regular adversiter on Facebook, I know how I can target particular groups of Facebook users with messages I know would interest them, and have that message to reach them in a manner that will draw their attention to the message.
If Cambridge Analytica used targeted ads to reach anti-Raila (or anti-Obama in the 2016 US presidential elections), then Raila’s team ought to have reciprocated by targeting anti-Uhuru with targeted ads too. As far as I know, Facebook is an open platform where advertisers compete for ad space through a competitive bidding process; where the person who pays more for the ads and tailor their ads more appropriately have the highest chance of reaching their target audience. Jubilee hired Cambridge Analytica for their 2017 presidential campaigns because they knew CA knows how to circumvent the highly competitive Facebook ad space. Nothing prevented NASA from hiring an equally competent firm to manage their campaigns.
On the question of whether companies such as Cambridge Analytica ought to first seek direct permission from users on whether they can use their data for targeted campaigns, I answer, “that’s inconsequential”. There are people who are so much fixated on privacy until they forget that with globalization and the Internet, privacy is basically as dead as diskettes and wired telephone lines. For example, those who you, like me, who have their numbers everywhere online, what repercussions have you suffered? I remember this day when I gave my number to Safaricom publicly on Twitter. A friend replied to the tweet suggesting that I should be careful about giving out my number to the public. I didn’t care. Since then I have continued to give my number to anyone who asks, not via Inbox, PM, or DM, but directly through my Facebook Timeline, Page, or even in comment sections of popular pages like Daily Nation.
My private information that is available publicly is not limited to my phone number. Head over to Facebook and you’ll know where I currently work, the person I am engaged (married) to, things that I like and love, topics I like posting about, and a million and one other things about me. In addition to that, my Facebook account has over 4800 strangers added as friends (since the humans I practically know and are in my Facebook friendship list are less than 200 yet I have 5000 friends).
What I am trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter whether you are one of those who have set their Facebook posts to private or public. At the end of the day, your experience on Facebook and other online platforms doesn’t depend on the others, but how you relate to these online services. Do you posts things that allow strangers to troll and bully you? Want to dig you out until they know where you live? Or do you post things that are only relevant to the ears and eyes of those who know you not?
Privacy is it were is dead, and it is being buried within this decade. In the next decade or thereabout, Internet giants that will be (whether Facebook and Google or totally new companies), will not only know you based on what you have posted, but by what you think. As you read this right now, Facebook is busy working on technologies that will allow Facebook users to interact telepathically. That is, users of Facebook in the nearby future will be able to communicate with each other, not by typing or speaking through Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and/or WhatsApp, but by thinking. When this communication will come to fruition, Bob in Kenya will be able to put on his thinking cap and Jane in Japan will be able to receive Bob’s thoughts through her thinking cap – and vise versa.
When this technology will ripen, Facebook will not only be able to gather information about you based on the newly introduced “Answer question” section, but will also know about how you think, what you think, your feelings, desires, ambitions, dreams, visions, and personality as extracted from your brain waves. At that time, when you see an ad based on what you have been thinking, it won’t be a coincidence or statistical chance, but it will be because Facebook actually knows what you have been thinking about throughout the day.
That’s why you shouldn’t care a damn thing about privacy, but accept the current and future reality that we are no longer individuals with unique identities but statistical aggregations that must live collectively in an open world – a world without secrets.
And by the way, why are you so worried about Cambridge analytical using your private data for targeted ads when your sponsor or side chick can screen shot those private DMs, Inboxes and PMs and post them publicly for the rest of us to view as WhatsApp status updates?