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This morning I saw an article in a UK publication, 'The Independent', about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony at a five-hour Senate hearing about the data-harvesting scandal that has been in the news lately.  The article was about what Zuckerberg would have said if he had been asked 'hardball' questions, which the article said his questioners did not trouble him with.  Evidently an Associated Press photographer noticed the notes were open on the table, and snapped a few pictures.  He then revealed the answers that would have been proffered if the questions had been asked.

My first reaction was one of shock that a photographer would harvest Zuckerberg's notes without permission.  But it only took a moment before the humor and irony of that thought took hold.  If anyone deserves to have his data harvested, wouldn't it have to be Mark Zuckerberg?

Cambridge Analytica sold the data, even though Facebook prohibited that. The scandal came about when it was found that Facebook had exposed data from up to 87 million Facebook users to a Cambridge Analytica researcher. you know those fun quizzes that you can take if you sign in with your Facebook account?  When you did that a loophole in the Facebook API allowed the quiz to collect data from all your friends.

The strangest uncommented-on aspect of this scandal is that everyone is so surprised.  Facebook has always suffered from a huge difference between its users' definition of sharing and its own.  Most users like to share their various comments, cute cat pictures, and so on with people they know.  Facebook thinks all that stuff should be public.  Even though you can tweak your settings so that only 'friends' see your posts, things leak out.  Then there is the new (youth) culture that thinks letting it all hang out there is a good thing.  Somehow getting thousands of 'likes' has become more valuable than actually accomplishing something.

Facebook, of course, encourages this.  On our own business Facebook page, we continually get notifications from Facebook encouraging us to boost posts so we can get more 'likes'.  On the one hand this is one of the ways that Facebook, a free service, is monetized.  So I understand that.  But the pitch is that the endgame is to get more 'likes' and 'shares'.  While there is some value to having more visibility for your business, the slant on getting all those 'likes' doesn't seem like an actual business endgame.

Sure there are online celebrities who thrive on getting all those 'likes' and 'shares'.  But, let's face it, that is not most of us.

At the hearing Zuckerberg told Senators, "I think the mistake we made is viewing our responsibility as just building tools, rather than viewing our whole responsibility as making sure those tools were used for good."

Really?  Tools?  It's a social medium, right, not a box in someone's garage.  The point of the tools is how they are used.  That is what people sign up for.  So, yes, that was a mistake.

I thought I might be one of the few Facebook users whose data wasn't compromised for the simple reason that I don't sign into quizzes with my Facebook account.  Sure, I like the quizzes as much as the next person, but if you have to sign in, I don't do it.  It wasn't because I am particularly smart.  I just thought it was creepy to allow some company access to my personal data just so I could answer a few questions for the fun of it.  But I have a lot of 'friends' who did sign into those quizzes  If their friends' data was harvested I guess my precautions were in vain.

Today I got email on Facebook telling me they have changed their product and business terms.  One of the provisions reads, "We will not share the Customer Data you provide to us with third parties (including advertisers) unless we have your permission or are required to do so by law. We will maintain the confidentiality and security of the Customer Data, including by maintaining appropriate organizational, technical and physical safeguards that are designed to (a) protect the security and integrity of the Customer Data while they are within our systems and (b) guard against the accidental or unauthorized access, use, alteration, or disclosure of Customer Data within our systems."

Too little, too late?  Public Relations?  Is Facebook's cavalier attitude toward making their users into a product they can sell too embedded into the company?  Using common sense, it seems to be the way the business was designed to work.  It is unreasonable to realistically expect privacy on a platform that was designed for sharing.

I am not a fan of Michael Moore, but I saw something he did on his short-lived 1994 television show that has stuck with me.  After repeatedly calling the owner of a telephone solicitation company at home, he then showed up with a camera crew at his front door.  The solicitation company owner was not at all amused, but the rest of us were, because, after all, fair is fair.

So I am not at all outraged that Zuckerberg's notes were read without his knowledge and shared with the public at large.  According to the 'Independent' article he had prepared extensively for difficult questions including why he thought he shouldn't resign as a result of the scandal.

What I do find shocking is that our elected officials didn't ask the questions.

Note: The Washington Post published a transcript of the Senate Hearing

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