Aldo Agostinelli


When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out, Facebook ended up into the eye of the storm. And users’ data have become the subject of endless debates. To make a long story short, for those who live on Mars and have never heard about this topic: the scandal revolved around a company named Cambridge Analytica (C.A.), belonging to an American tycoon sympathizing with US Republicans, whose core business is collecting users’ data from social media , analyzing them, processing them to produce targeted adv campaigns. Such company also operates on Facebook through a third party app which collects such data and delivers them to it. Suddenly, the social network, outraged, suspended such activity, accusing C.A. of having unlawfully collected data which were not meant to end up in their hands. However, many people blamed Facebook to have hidden such story until it was revealed by media and not to have paid enough attention to users’ terms and conditions, thus allowing personal data to be taken away for unlawful purposes (Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far).

The whole story is still quite unclear, but the main focus is actually the use of data.

Read the article in Italian.

Challenged by opponents on both sides of the ocean, Zuckerberg took action and wrote a post announcing several novelties. In primis, he introduced some new measures related to privacy as part of the  EU General Data Protection Policy . From now on Facebook will ask European users for an explicit consent concerning the ads based on data provided by advertising partners and profile data. This means that users will be asked whether they want the platform to use their data to show ads targeted to their tastes.

Europe has long been blamed to be obsessed with privacy. To the point that last year, during a round table organized at the United Nations, Alibaba founder Jack Ma claimed that European standards on privacy should not hinder innovation but  create new policies to encourage investments on infrastructures and reduce taxes for e-commerce businesses. (Alibaba head says privacy regulations shouldn’t hold back e-commerce).

The C.A. scandal has made the situation even more complex, favoring censors.  However, this situation will not be solved through bans and prohibitions. As I have explained in my book People Are Media”,  if businesses want to keep up with the global market they will need users’ data more and more often and they will have to find a way to collect them and use them legally. At the same time, users will also benefit from the situation and have already got used to watching targeted ads on their smartphones displays.

The truth is that when we watch a non-targeted ad, we get easily annoyed.  We don’t want to waste time and wish to access free music on Spotify without spending time selecting it, because the right playlist shall be created automatically. And for this to happen data are needed, our data specifically. We also want services to have some specific characteristics and to be provided automatically, as well. And, once again, data are key to this. Brands don’t have a crystal ball and they are not mind readers. Not yet, at least. Data allow us to save time, to receive tailor made, specific, punctual information.  Data are useful for brands but also for us. Do people really want to give up such advantages? I don’t think so.

Do you like targeted services? Would you give them up in exchange for privacy? Tweet @agostinellialdo.

To find out more about the digital world, you can read my book: “People Are Media” 

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Aldo Agostinelli