Getty ImagesThomas Trutschel
On Tuesday night, the New York Times revealed that Facebook has been handing your most personal data over to the other companies in your life, including Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, and many others, making Mark Zuckerberg the figurative drug lord for the best shit on the internet: you.
Calling what Facebook handed off “data” is a very sterile way of putting it. Facebook’s practices are the online equivalent of a home invasion: Zuckerberg rooting around in your underwear drawer for the good stuff. This includes private messages to your wife, the contact information for every friend you’ve ever had, and so much more. The stuff he swore to Congress that they weren’t selling? They just gave it away instead.
This isn’t the first time this year Facebook’s been caught looking shitty. It’s just the latest in a series of scandals that covered so much ground, like Zuckerberg found a piece-of-shit encyclopedia, and started at A and just kept going. Considering launching anti-Semitic attacks against George Soros? Sure, why not. Exposing the data of 50 million users accidentally? Let’s do it. Misrepresenting video views to advertisers by somewhere between 80 and 900 percent in order to get massive buy-in that put companies out of business when the numbers didn’t deliver? He’s gotcha. Targeting housing advertisements to discriminate against enough different people as to be completely illegal under the Fair Housing Act? So easy they kept doing it.
And that’s not even taking into account the blatant selling-out of Western democracy in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election here in the US and the Brexit vote in England, of which a vomitous wave of depressing, awful proof just keeps washing over us.
They’ve apologized, of course, and promised that they’ll work hard to earn back your trust. That’s one of the things Facebook is super good at: apologizing for breaching your trust. The company is among the world’s best apologizers. Whatever it is they’re apologizing for, they’re never really going do anything about it, but they’re very, very sorry you found out.
They don’t have to do anything because they’ve done the math and know that’s enough: How can you leave when your great aunt, and that dude Kenny from high school, and your coworkers from two jobs ago, and also your mom are all there? And because the whole thing is a rat king of awfulness that you can’t even begin to untangle, of course, you let them continue to have this hold on you. And because you let them, they’re emboldened to keep on getting shittier and shittier.
As far as major corporations go, Facebook isn’t alone in being shitty, of course. But they’re very, very good at it. So good, in fact, that the biggest companies in the world have worked overtime to enshitten themselves to keep up. The reason why YouTube is suggesting you watch WarGamer69’s treatise on the white race when all you were looking for was a new pie recipe? Because Facebook gobbled up video views when they introduced autoplay a few years ago, forcing YouTube to build their own autoplaying feed that’s been totally corrupted by the far right. When Facebook introduced Instant Articles and threatened to take traffic off the greater web and keep it all inside Facebook, Google countered with a technology that basically created a second internet for mobile devices and is part of the reason that your Google search results suck now. That, of course, came after Google tried to out-Facebook Facebook with the disastrous Google+ which is being shut down due to a massive data breach—which, come to think of it, is about the most Facebook thing they could have done. Credit to Twitter for not trying to out-Facebook Facebook, but mostly because they’ve been busy stomping on their own dick while Nazis flooded the platform.
And what greater purpose was all this willful enshittening for? To show you ads. You know how at the end of the day all nuclear power does is boil water? All of the advanced technology that’s been developed over the last decade has ultimately been about being better at advertising than the other guy. We literally broke most of the actual world and almost the entire damn Internet so that a crappy ad for something you’re probably not buying could follow you around the web that much better.
“Sorry about the 2016 election folks, but we needed to have a better system to show you that one T-shirt that knows both your job and your birth month and that you’re a bad-ass, so them’s the breaks.”
Which brings us back to your friend Kenny, and your weird aunt, and all those randos, and your parents, and everyone else we’re locked into this hellscape with. I get that it’s hard to say goodbye to all of them, but it’s time to do something—anything—to start untangling yourself from it. Turn off notifications. Delete Messenger from your phone (please, it’s a nightmare). Cull your friends lists. Leave a platform or two.
But also, talk to your representatives, let them know that you’re tired of these companies doing whatever they want with your stuff. Ask for better laws around data protection, around data transparency, and around securing your information. This is the thing you need to remember: these companies care about you—or at least your value—more than you do. What if you started to care that much too?