It’s 11 am in Washington DC and Mark Zuckerberg is most likely in some five-star hotel shitting himself right about now.
In a few hours he’ll going to go before the the US Congress to answer questions about things like how in the hell Facebook let Cambridge Analytica, the “political research” company hired by both the Brexit camp and Trump, steal personal data on an estimated 87 million people. At least.
In fact, Facebook said that ”Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped.”
Well, if you’re like most people, you’re probably still thinking “Whatever, who cares.”
And if you’re like most people, while Zuckerberg goes from shitting himself in his hotel to sweating in front of Congress, you’ll flick through your Facebook feed, liking, sharing and tagging all the way. Hell, I’m going to share this blog on my own Facebook page and hope it gets shared, liked and commented on.
And that’s why YOU, me and the other 2 billion people on Facebook are now the biggest threat not only to our own personal security but to democracy itself.
Mikko Hyppönen is Chief Research Officer at F-Secure and like the best person on the planet to talk to about online security and privacy issues.
I talked to him almost a year ago about the data we give away everyday online and how Cambridge Analytica hijacked it to help put Donald Trump in the White House and Britain out of the EU. And I reconnected with him again now as Mark Zuckerberg gets ready to answer some very hard questions.
He had a lot to say. But two words really stood out:
I asked Mikko Hyppönen if he’d seen this coming before Trump won.
“No. And this is the biggest deal. I missed it. I didn’t realize it was this widespread. Even people who work in this field don’t understand how powerful this is until we see it with our own eyes. And that’s terrifying.”
LM: So they basically weaponized people via Facebook?
MH: “Yes. They used information people had essentially given to Facebook to target them with content meant to make them angry. I think the surprise election results in the US and UK are a direct result of this hyper-targeting social media capability where companies like Cambridge Analytica can pinpoint what people are like, beyond the level they understand even understand what they’re like. And then send them messages that only they see.”
LM: Um.. Ok well that’s terrifying.
MH: “Yes. Yes, it is. And we are the guinea pigs – we’re the first generation in mankind’s history who can be tracked like this.”
LM: So is this an information war and we’re in it?
MH: “I don’t like to use the term ’war,’ but we’re definitely in a battle. A battle for control. This is the new normal. From now on every single election will have elements of what we saw in the US presidential election and with Brexit. There will be companies and other actors who will try to affect people’s minds. We could easily see election hacking. We might see hacking of actual election systems in countries with online voting. Finland wants to move to digital voting, it’s a very bad idea.”
LM: So what can we do?
MH: “Delete Facebook. Not have online voting.”
LM: “That’s it?”
MH: “Well… let’s think about this. The first thing is awareness. Which is a huuuuge challenge because even I wasn’t understanding what a big problem this is. And that’s terrifying to me. You need to understand that you’re being profiled by not only by companies that want to sell you stuff but also by companies who want to make you vote a certain way. They want to use you. People don’t like being used. If people actually knew this was happening maybe they would look at this differently. Maybe… but probably not.”
LM: What about on a concrete level?
MH: “I think it should be illegal to show political ads on Facebook and I think we should make it illegal for social media sites to sell demography data to election campaigns.”
MH: “The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect in May. After that, EU citizens CAN request that all of their information be deleted from Facebook. But for citizens of the rest of the world, there’s no easy solution.”
LM: Bottom line, is this is a direct threat to our democracy?
MH: “This is definitely a direct threat to our democracy.”
LM: So there’s no answer?
MH: “Education… But education never works. So we’re fucked. I’m sorry.”