If there are no free lunches, how come we expect data privacy?

In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, I have thought about how much of my personal data is out there. Data waiting to be harvested by some sick psychologist or ethnographer and deployed to warping my mind. I like to think that I have an iron-clad mind. But at the rate I give in to pepperoni pizza, maybe having an ‘open mind’ is not such a bad thing after all.  

After the rumination, I concluded that I have nothing out there to be ashamed of or be over-protective about. You stand a better chance of knowing a lot more about me speaking to the wife. She’s got more dirt on me than if I rolled in the mud.  

I have also been reading about data collection and protection. About how ignorant and naïve many of us are about it and how social media works. 

So, let me lay it out for you.

We wake up one day to these beautiful and ‘free’ platforms that allow us to connect with people and share great things. You post pictures of yourself slaying at an Owanbe and is stoked when people ‘like,’ ‘share’ or ‘comment.’ You tweet and is pleased with the number of ‘retweets’ you get. You are the dude or dudette of life. Social media rocks. And it is all free.  

Lest we forget, Google is also so into you, it gives you ‘free’ Gmail and Chrome. The best things in life are free you say.   

Here’s a question for you: how do you think these hard-working tech folks pay for all these ‘free’ platforms they give us? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Gmail or Chrome? You think Silicon Valley fry those brain cells and burn the cash because they love us and want us to be happy?  

Well, maybe Tinder wants you to be happy.

But sorry to burst your bubble, Silicon Valley pay for all these free stuff with data. Your data.

It’s our data that allows them to stay in business. 

When you sign up for Facebook, for instance, you are asked to fill personal information.  Names, email, phone numbers, date of birth, location, gender. As you use the platform, Facebook will suggest to you to fill in your interests, likes, photos, relationship status, religion, political views, work history and others. Some of this information is mandatory. Others are discretionary.

But Zucky and team will like you to have a complete profile and be more active on Facebook. Because the more active you are, the more detailed the data. And the more valuable it is.

So, Facebook nudges you about updating your public profile and suggest people you may know. They ask you to confirm ‘if 080xxxxxxx is still your phone number.’ Asks you if you want to upload to Facebook pictures you’ve recently taken.

“Hold up! How does Facebook know I’ve taken new pictures? Is it monitoring my camera?”

You bet it is. You authorised it to.

And I bet you also never read those lengthy ‘terms and conditions’ and privacy policies of apps before clicking ‘install. 

We all don’t. 

And oh, remember those ‘free’ online personality tests, quizzes or fun facts? The ones that make it easy for you to register with your Facebook or Twitter account? Whose API can read and modify settings on your account?

Yeah, I know: it’s just so much easier registering with social media accounts than remembering too many passwords. 

Just that you may be granting access to your personal data. Perhaps to unprincipled collectors. That’s how Cambridge Analytica got hold of 50 million Facebook profiles. 

Social media platforms collect data about you so they can have a good idea of who you. They then use the data to target specific advertising and messages at you. Messages you might be amenable to. It’s why I never get ads for diapers but my wife does.

“Wait! What? Does Facebook know something I don’t?”

Advertisers pay Facebook, Google, Twitter or Instagram top dollars to reach you. They pay for the platforms’ ability to micro-target and for their reach. And it is not illegal. Neither is it new. Just that we seldom think about it. 

If you don’t like the sound of all these, you are free to opt out of any social media network or any Google product. You can go back to sending mails through NIPOST and getting knowledge through divination. I know a Baba…

There are no free lunches. You give something to get something. Data – yours and mine – is the medium of exchange. It’s what keeps the gravy train going.

I do sympathise with Facebook at the baying for its blood. It has rights to collect data and monetize it via paid advertising. It’s an amazing medium. It makes life more fun. 

Well, yeah, maybe Zucky and team could have been a little less arrogant too. 

Facebook deserves criticism only because it didn’t do enough to prevent unscrupulous usage of users’ data by entities like Cambridge Analytica. It owes us that duty of care. 

But it isn’t the one sowing tares and scheming to unseat governments. It’s data analytics companies like AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica. 


So, it seems like data regulation is coming, either self-imposed or government-imposed. We’ll wait and see. 

But while we wait, there’s a simple role you can play in privacy protection:

Stop putting all your business out there!

Try to have some shame!


2 thoughts on “If there are no free lunches, how come we expect data privacy?

  1. Tobiloba says:

    Nice to have you back. Its been a while and this is a beautiful write up, a wake up call. To comment also require we fill in details. Are you gathering your own data too?

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