Facebook and the Multi-Billion Dollar Data Broker Industry

The controversy surrounding Facebook and privacy issues has made news headlines. However, data brokerage and the miss-use of information is nothing new.

The subtle manipulation of the way in which users respond to certain information stimuli is currently a hot topic of conversation. This after the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal literally broke the internet in a way that no amount of funny cat video footage has ever managed to do. Whilst it certainly is no surprise that Facebook users find this kind of intrusion on privacy and thought manipulation to be exceptionally disturbing, it is interesting to note that many people consider this to be news, when in fact, it has been going on for a very, very long time. The only difference being that it was called by a different name.

The truth is, data, or information brokers have been around and doing business for almost as long as what the internet is old. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry and its not bound to come crashing down anytime soon. In many ways, the need for this type of intellectual trade is fuelled by everything from over-supply to economic recessions.

Companies have become increasingly more desperate to get a grip on effective marketing in order to sell their products to the best possible target market. Making the most profit from the least amount of effort and capital input has become the driving force behind every conceivable marketing strategy under the sun.

Information Is Money

Data brokers collect everything from census information, motor vehicle and driving records, court reports and voter registration lists, to medical records and internet browsing histories. The idea is to gather as much information about every conceivable human profile as possible.

This information is then categorised and grouped into typical market profiles, providing an in-depth analysis on everything from religious affiliation, political affiliation, household income and occupation to investment habits and product preferences.

It doesn’t require a technological genius to see why this information is worth thousands of dollars.

No Control

Individuals are usually not able to determine exactly what is known about them by data brokers. Most data brokers hold on to the information that they have obtained for an indefinite period of time. Loosely translated: the information may very well never go away. Part of the efficacy of the gleaning process is that historical information can be compared with the latest information in order to better determine customer trends as well as the rate at which certain dynamics evolve.

A very scary thought indeed, especially considering the fact that entities like social media giant Facebook still consider allowing companies like Cambridge Analytica to continue trolling its pages from an insider’s perspective, knowing full well that this is the case.

More Than Marketing

Moving away from the manipulative marketing point of view, information in general can be a very sensitive issue. The truth is, somewhere along the line, many of us have dabbled outside the borders of a marriage or relationship or have even discussed sensitive information relating to criminal behaviour and activities with contacts via instant messaging apps.

It’s safe to say that most of us would pay considerable amounts of cash in order to protect information of this nature, especially since the leaking of this information to interested parties can have dire effects on the very quality of our lives.

When considered in this light, blackmailing activities become a real and imminent danger, no longer something found only in crime and drama series on television. There’s also the risk of users information being used in scams, and con-artists are well versed in identity theft and assuming other peoples data as their own.

Its Free For A Reason

People have long been aware about the many dangers of over-sharing information on social media. Many people have fallen prey to identity theft and have lost everything but the clothes on their backs due to this. Imagine now the dire nature of the situation now that the problem is no longer criminals trolling social media pages that have not been sufficiently hidden from the public eye, but instead, are being handed sensitive information on a silver platter, for a minimal fee.

The question begs: is Facebook more than just a social media platform? Or has it been headed towards being a modern-day surveillance tool all along?

Perhaps there is a more sinister reason behind the fact that its free, and always will be, than what meets the eye.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_broker
https://hbr.org/2018/04/facebook-is-changing-how-marketers-can-target-ads-what-does-that-mean-for-data-brokers
https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-says-its-ending-use-of-information-from-outside-data-brokers-for-ad-targeting-1522278352
https://thenextweb.com/facebook/2018/03/29/facebook-to-block-data-brokers-from-its-ad-network/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2018/04/05/the-data-brokers-so-powerful-even-facebook-bought-their-data-but-they-got-me-wildly-wrong/#6740e0193107
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