If one day the political powers of the United States and the European Union decide to put a limit on the accumulation of information and power carried out by companies like Facebook (to whose business group Instagram and WhatsApp also belong), it will not be thanks to the initiative of its deputies or senators, unusually paralyzed by such a gathering of influence and dominance. It will be thanks to the determination and courage of people like Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old woman, an engineer employed in the company, who appropriated relevant company documentation and gave it to a newspaper to guarantee its publication. This material is what now forces the United States Senate to open one of the few investigations (still very partial) that has made the leaders of the technological monster that has developed around Mark Zuckerberg nervous.
A few hours after Haugen made public his identity as the person who denounced Facebook’s toxic practices, claiming that he seeks benefits over the safety of his users, and that The Wall Street Journal published the documentation that supported that accusation, the company suffered a fall that was not sufficiently explained: “A configuration change that had a cascading effect,” according to company spokespersons. The “blackout”, which lasted more than six hours and occurred just as the most scrutiny Facebook has ever been subjected to, indirectly demonstrated its enormous power and the damage and economic losses it can cause to tens of thousands of businesses across the world. all the world. Its numbers are so huge that they are difficult to handle: it has 2,700 million registered users, and not only in the more developed or technified world. It sweeps, for example, in Latin America, with about 180 million people signed up in Brazil.
Haugen said what almost no politician dares to say: that Facebook carries out practices “that can be perceived as a betrayal of democracy.” For example, he assured that the company immediately deactivated all disinformation controls immediately after the US elections, which allowed a violent campaign of lies in favor of Trump to be unleashed quickly, which ended on January 6 with the violent assault on the Capitol. The company, always according to documents provided by Haugen, gives special treatment to celebrities, politicians and users that it considers high-profile and do not undergo controls.
Facebook is essentially based on one thing: accumulating human experiences that it transforms into data that predicts behaviors. But as the sociologist Shoshana Zuboff (United States, 1951), author of the concept “surveillance capitalism”, pointed out in the BBC, Facebook is above all “a scandalous, daring and reprehensible example of the new global economic order” and should be seen, as other similar companies (Google, Amazon), as antithetical to democracy.
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Another communication expert sociologist, professor at the London College of Communication, Zoetanya Sujon, insists on the same idea: “What we see is that human lives have become a natural resource for data extraction.” And he warns users to be very skeptical of Facebook ads that he is going to take a “turn in favor of privacy.” “After years of invasions of privacy and many misuse and abuse of personal data, it is not easy to rebuild trust,” writes Sujon. “Just as in colonial times empires conquered entire peoples, appropriating territory and natural resources, data colonialism appropriates information extracted from human behavior,” he points out.
The extraordinary power achieved by Facebook, Google or Amazon is the subject of hundreds of academic, economic, sociological, psychological or political studies around the world, but very few reports in the parliaments of those same countries. The apology is often that a single country cannot stand up to such technological monsters. Apart from the fact that this acceptance can cause disaffection with democracy, what is evident is that parliaments and governments can campaign to explain to their citizens what is happening and how they can try to protect themselves. What less, when there are citizens, like Mrs. Haugen, who risk their job and their professional future to fulfill that task.
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