back to article Facebook offers to crack open data for eggheads to find out how badly it's screwed democracy

Facebook has announced an initiative it says will help academics investigate the effect of social media on society without overstepping the privacy line. Broadly, the plan is to set up a commission of independent, "respected academic experts" who will develop a research agenda to assess how social media impacts democracy, and …

  1. Daedalus Silver badge

    They're singing our song....

    I need to get them off my back!

    Make Quango Quango Quango Quango!

    They won't find out about the hack

    They're just some Quango talking heads!

  2. Kaltern

    Bit late.

    Facebook already stepped over the privacy line the moment they realised just how much money personal information was worth - and made it easily available, and by ensuring it was difficult to stop users from locking everything down completely.

    The whole concept of Facebook is a complete joke.

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Wonderful

    As described, this pretty much institutionalises the social media influence. Sure it will be researched. One of the best ways to cobweb things so nothing is done.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wonderful

      Correct. FB intends that this "process" be controlled by them, so that they can limit the scope and keep regulators at arm's length. Good luck with that, guys!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Overstepping the privacy line'

    When Zuk is questioned this week, will any Politicians finally realize just how insidious 'internet tracking' really is, or will they just get lost in their obsession with Fake News or blaming 3rd Parties. Take Shadow-Profiles:

    1. Installing an Adblocker doesn't stop Facebook from tracking you through your friends. You automatically get added to lookalike groups for tracking and sales purposes etc. Low-hanging-fruit friends / colleagues / family with your email / phone number are basically betraying your trust!

    2. Backroom data deals such as Facebook Hospital-Patient-Slurp or Google NHS-Deepmind. Again Ad-blockers won't save you here either. Neither will Data Brokers scraping info from supermarket loyalty schemes / cards, bank credit reports, mortgages, car loans / credit cards etc.

    3. Shadow Profiles created from tracking non-users from websites with deals with Facebook or hosting Facebook like buttons / Google-Analytics or other 3rd party partnership that do the same kind of tracking... Here Ad-blockers should help. But only if they're updated all the time and the list of shadowy data websites is current, which is something which can't be guaranteed all of the time. It also assumes that your partners, kids, family don't visit and borrow a device and accidentally disable some of your defenses, even just for an evening etc.. It happens believe me!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Overstepping the privacy line'

      will any Politicians finally realize just how insidious 'internet tracking' really is...

      Probably not, since a recent topic was about FB paying lots of politicians with lots of money.

      Shadow profile is a lost in your privacy, but what you do still can still maintain some privacy.

      My rule of thumb for complete privacy is straight and simple. Everything you do online is not private. So if you want privacy, disconnect from the internet. They will never know what I did to my potatoes.

      About your points 1-3, I would say keep a very well define pattern for their tracking in one place, and do your other stuff elsewhere. So, login from the same place with the same IP, and do your none wish to connect stuff elsewhere. Also, set to auto delete cookies / save no cookies and turn adblock on by default. Set a privacy friendly browsers like Duckduckgo / Startpage and connect to a privacy network like tor or maybe vpn will help you in disconnecting your online pattern further.

      Also, take control of your device. Your kids shouldn't have control over them. If they want to borrow them, I would setup everything for them so the connection are not connected.

      All that is presuming your are using desktop computing. If you're talk about a mobile device, then it's a different story. If you have any of their tracking apps like the FB app, google map and you didn't turn off network/ turn off data / turn off gps / block permission / turn on firewall, then yea that surely connected all your dots and took away you privacy.

  5. JohnFen

    Tell me another one

    "will help academics investigate the effect of social media on society without overstepping the privacy line."

    Yeah, right. As if Facebook has the first clue where the "privacy line" is.

    "Crucially, they will be granted the data they need to answer their questions, which in some cases will be data sets from Facebook."

    See? Not the first clue.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'the public interest is best served when independent researchers have access to information'

    Academic independence AND money... Lets recap on the kind of independence Facepoo really has in mind:

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/02/08/us_supreme_court_google_settlement/

  7. Florida1920

    Form a committee, to:

    1. Fix the blame

    2. Fix the problem (optional)

  8. tom dial Silver badge

    Noise

    "Set up a commission of independent 'respected academic experts'" - chosen by Facebook? "who will develop a research agenda to assess how social media impacts democracy, and then review and sign-off on research proposals from other academics."

    "Facebook need to ensure that they give researchers access to their system to get informed consent." That's to say, a probably biased data set for which the bias is essentially unknown as to both magnitude and content - an unpromising starting point indeed. It is equally likely that the respected academic experts, and the other academics who will conduct the research, will have their biases. The main difference is that the direciont of academician biases is somewhat more predictable.

    Moreover, access to the FaceBook data alone is quite insufficient to answer the key question of whether Cambridge Analytica actually succeeded in swaying votes to a different degree than other methods based, for example, on state provided registration lists and voter surveys such as have been done regularly for at least the last 75 years, or even the experience-informed judgments of candidates and their campaign staffs. At the least, it would be necessary to identify and survey a reasonable sample of voters (i. e., people who actually voted) and nonvoters targeted by CA and not to try to estimate the significance of CA's efforts as to whether they were induced to vote or not and whether Cambridge Analytica's carefully designed and targeted material worked better than other methods. The ongoing moral panic over this and the US election in general probably has poisoned the respondent pool enough to make accurate, reliable, and statistically significant results hard to obtain; as a guess, I suspect that a random sample with a 3% sampling error would break for Clinton by at least 50:44 despite the actual break of about 48:46.

    In short, they will arrange to have "social science" research done that will expend a good deal of other peoples' money but is quite unlikely to show anything very significant or useful.

  9. scrubber
    WTF?

    Democracy

    If anyone can use Facebook to alter elections then we neither deserve nor want democracy.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    In order to maximize the chance of getting the best results

    The researchers will have full access to everyone's Facebook prorfile.

  11. southen bastard

    Make delete account work permanently

    Closed and deleted my acc with FB months ago, went to a friends fb page recently and my page automatically reactivated? i then went through the close and delete acc again

    how is this possible?

    Fb told me my acc was gone and they were sorry to see me go( me not so much)

    other friends are asking why im not accepting friend requests?

    would fb lie to me?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Make delete account work permanently

      Closed and deleted my acc with FB months ago, went to a friends fb page recently and my page automatically reactivated?

      There is no guarantee that deleting FB account really deletes it, since the data isn't deleted from your own computer.

      But if you want to get it to get permanently deactivated, you could try this. Post flag-able ToS breaking content like nake pictures of you or some other guy, then get your friend's help to flag it to get permanently banned. Congratulation, you've permanently deactivated your account.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good idea!

    Maybe give it to some academics in Cambridge who could maybe create an app for people to check what information was used in Facebook. You just need to give it access to your contracts on your phone to make it easier.

    Now the academics, may know how to gather the data, but there may be so much of it, so maybe they could hand that information to an analytics company, say with Cambridge in the name, to process all this information and then report back.

    Sounds like a plan to me.

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