The dark art of data: Facebook is delving deep into your mind

Reading an article from The New York Times, ‘For Search, Facebook had to go beyond “Robospeak”‘, the article struck me on a number of levels; one being, there is a general acceptance that computers and software can’t read context or sentiment.

One of Facebook’s linguists admitted, “Computers are bad at context,” he said. “They’re bad at real world knowledge”.

This means when you read all about the various software tools to set up your “listening post” it is flawed. It means that to listen, you have to listen using ears not software.

Facebook understand this, and they have a team of psychologists, statisticians, linguists and engineers listening, analysing and mining all your information. So if you are researching or listening online, take the time to dig deep personally, go through the forums – they are alive and well with discussions and insights.

Going through numerous Google, Bing, Twitter and Facebook searches using a large number of detailed descriptions and synonyms, this is the only way to “listen”. There will still be anomalies in data returned, because we are dealing with human beings. A human listening to a human means detailed insights can be drawn and understood, around aspects such as, context, ambiguous statements, irony, sarcasm and so on.

What is the dark side of this listening in is the extent Facebook is mining and analysing yours and my personal data, photos, interests, likes, connections, history, and our lives for its own commercial use, with little concern for privacy.

For me, I started to realise that as I use Facebook for personal use I was creating a digital footprint for my young daughter, which was searchable by unknown engineers and Facebook psychologists. I deleted my account permanently and set up a pseudonym account, purely for work purposes. I just couldn’t face the thought of my personal family photos potentially leaking with the new Facebook Search product or being analysed by faceless people or faceless software bots.

I am not as concerned with areas I just use for work, such as Google + and Twitter, but for me personally, Facebook had way too much of my personal stuff.

It isn’t just me who seems concerned over social networking and the dark side of data. Only this week, News reported Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man recognised as inventing the world wide web, made distinct differentiation between publicly available information and private data when talking about his theory on Link Data.

He stated private data should be that; private data that we can use to help our lives, whilst insisting anonymity should not be the norm. It sounds like a contradiction, but his interpretation was to use “delicate judgment” and the parameters of the law when exposing someone.

Otherwise, he said users should demand all of their inaccessible data back from Google and Facebook and other social networks.

“One of the issues of social networking sites is they have the data, I don’t,” he was reported as saying.

The general public’s often poor understanding of complicated privacy settings and terms and conditions that stretch a mile long in legal gobbledygook means there are many embarrassing incidents where people have believed what they posted or shared was private, to then realise nothing is private as their comment or action goes viral around the world.

I wonder how many people know what it says in the iTunes terms and conditions, or how many people read it, before they click I agree. How many businesses understand the various cloud and storage providers’ terms and conditions as we willingly dump our commercial information into their online storage systems?

It’s a valid concern.

In August 2012, it was reported that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs, opened up about his concerns, referring to the cloud:

It’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.

With the cloud, you don’t own anything. You already signed it away.

I want to feel that I own things. A lot of people feel, ‘Oh, everything is really on my computer’, but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it.

The white elephant in the room needs facing, by companies but importantly by us individually, to take back control of our data and our lives.

How to Permanently Delete your Facebook Account.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of digital and interactive consultancy company Bendalls Group. With over 20 years’ experience, Bendall has worked with global brands including BBC and Virgin, and is an expert in how businesses can approach strategy in the digital world. You can follow her on Twitter at @FiBendall, and can contact her through Bendalls Group.




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