Over recent weeks, Mark Zuckerberg has been talking about how Facebook will be doing more to protect our data from prying eyes – both outside and within Facebook. But the company has skirted around many of the real issues and, while talking big, has kept the real game in the shadows.
Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying “The future is private”. But privacy isn’t really helpful to Facebook’s business model. It relies on data in order to work out what we like and don’t like, where we are, who were with and what we’re discussing in order to target ads in order to generate revenue.
During the opening keynote of this week’s F8 conference, Zuckerberg talked about the key principles that will drive the company over the next year. Those are private interactions, encryption, reduced permanence, safety, interoperability and secure data storage.
They sound good don’t they? Perhaps they’re the sorts of things regulators and governments, who have consistently shown a fundamental misunderstanding of how data and the internet work, want to hear.
Of course, it was just a year ago that Zuckerberg promised us a clear history function – like the one Google has had for a while and is now automating – so I’m not confident that Facebook will deliver anything other than more lip service over the next year.
What Facebook has avoided discussing is where the real value is in the information we generate for Facebook. Even if all our data is encrypted, both at least and in flight, there’s a bunch of other stuff Facebook can use.
Metadata is immensely valuable. Instead of Facebook simply indexing and “reading” our posts, they can infer a great deal simply by knowing when, where, with whom and how we exchange data.
A simple example of this is that Facebook doesn’t need to know I took a photo of the Eiffel Tower by looking at the picture. It can infer that by the geo-tagging information in the image’s EXIF data. And they can tell what device you used and when you took the picture.
Suddenly, they can target ads for French tourist attractions without having seen the actual photo.
I want to hear what Facebook, Google and all the other companies that are vacuuming up our data are doing with that precious metadata.
Thus far, Facebook has been talking a big game abut data protection. But, to take the sporting metaphor further, they haven’t revealed a real game plan and I’m not even sure they’re playing the same sport we’re playing.