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One meeting with Zuckerberg won't fix the Facebook problem

Debate about Facebook -- rather like debate on Facebook -- all too often descends into a furious shouting ma...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 12:51 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 12:51 PM

Debate about Facebook -- rather like debate on Facebook -- all too often descends into a furious shouting match of half-truths, conspiracy theories and competing agendas, from which it becomes all but impossible to discern what's true and what matters.

So it is with the furor that brings Mark Zuckerberg, finally, to testify before Congress amid a series of questions about Facebook, data handling and privacy.

His appearance comes alongside allegations that data harvested from Facebook may have been instrumental in securing the election of Donald Trump and the decision by the UK to leave the European Union.

Facebook is long overdue proper scrutiny. It holds masses of information on 2 billion people -- far larger than the population of any country -- and close to one in three people on the planet.

It has grown to this size in under two decades, and has consequently had almost no time to reflect on how its business works.

Facebook has been disingenuous in many of its defenses and its apologies.

The company was aware in 2014 that numerous third-party apps using its toolkits were harvesting information on the Facebook friends of people who used them -- as was the case in the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

It knew, because this was a built-in feature to its toolkit, which was discontinued for all apps in 2015.

Facebook knew that Cambridge Analytica had obtained millions of records in 2015, because it was contacted and informed of the fact by the Guardian newspaper. When the story didn't blow up at the time, it took minimal action -- asking the company to delete the data, but little more.

Even in its more recent statements, Facebook shows chutzpah. One of the "abuses" it has highlighted to its users is the ability that companies and individuals had to find people's Facebook accounts by searching for their email or phone number -- which it says has been done at least once for virtually all of the 2 billion people using the site.

This feature, Facebook says, has since been disabled: but savvy users who understand Facebook's business model might wonder whether this is really about protecting users' privacy, or a bid to secure Facebook's bottom line.

One of the social network's best offerings to advertisers is the ability to plug in their own customer databases -- emails or phone numbers -- in order to target those individuals, or people like them, on Facebook.

Say you have a database of people who've previously bought your product. This feature allows you to target them with an advert on Facebook, offering a discount to buy again. Facebook can also recommend keywords to find more people who look like your customers, helping you find new potential buyers. It's a powerful product.

By making it harder for others to connect Facebook profiles to emails and phone numbers, Facebook has protected the value of a service that it offers -- unless (and it certainly hasn't announced this) it intends to revoke that product entirely.

We have been hearing soothing noises with minimal detail and virtually no changes from Zuckerberg and Facebook for more than a decade now.

But now, Facebook needs to go far further than it previously has if it wants to be taken at face value: otherwise, we should rightly expect it is trying to protect and defend its existing and highly lucrative business model.

We need to have a much better-informed debate about how our data -- the bits and pieces of information that make up virtually every detail of our daily lives, and our personalities -- is being bought, packaged, and sold.

But we do also need to place the claims of some of Facebook's critics in their proper context.

According to Facebook, Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal details of around 87 million people -- including one million Brits.

The database had previously been referred to as having around 50 million people in it.

It's possible that the database grew since whistleblowers last saw it -- though it was impossible to add to it after early 2015. It's also possible that just 50 million of the 87 million harvested were US-based, and that the others were discarded.

This is a question that can be answered as more people come in front of lawmakers, but one that's important to answer.

Why? This one database (and its million UK citizens) has been seized on as a possible reason to re-run the UK's Brexit referendum.

However, this data was collected for the purposes of helping US campaigns, focused on US users.

To suggest this database, which accidentally collected the details of one million UK users, could have been instrumental in a referendum won by a margin of around 1.3 million votes is a huge claim and one needing solid evidence that no one has come close to providing.

Facebook has found itself at the center of numerous debates -- each of which is immensely complex and controversial.

How much of our data do we think is acceptable to trade for free social networking? How much influence did Russian propaganda have on Western elections? Was improperly harvested data critical to the election of Donald Trump -- or the UK's vote for Brexit? Should there be limits on what can be advertised on Facebook -- and who should set them?

Facebook has a clear agenda when it provides answers to many of these questions. So do many campaigners bitterly opposed to the outcome of recent elections.

Unpicking the truth from the hype and working out how to deal with the new challenges we find ourselves facing is a herculean task. It will take far more than one session before Congress to get there.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 341862

Reported Deaths: 7533
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23783441
DeSoto23180283
Harrison20365329
Rankin15307290
Jackson15087251
Madison10917227
Lee10674179
Jones8969169
Forrest8621159
Lauderdale7839243
Lowndes7016151
Lamar696289
Lafayette6535124
Washington5589139
Pearl River5141152
Bolivar4949134
Oktibbeha491698
Panola4766112
Warren4709127
Marshall4691106
Pontotoc446273
Union432579
Monroe4322137
Neshoba4268181
Hancock423788
Lincoln4171116
Pike3650113
Leflore3619125
Tate352888
Alcorn349574
Sunflower347194
Adams340588
Scott340176
Yazoo338575
Copiah323468
Simpson322090
Itawamba314180
Coahoma313385
Tippah304768
Prentiss297863
Covington291883
Leake284675
Marion283681
Wayne276143
George270551
Grenada268888
Newton261564
Tishomingo239370
Winston236584
Jasper229548
Attala225973
Stone225337
Chickasaw218760
Holmes199274
Clay196754
Clarke186280
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181232
Smith178935
Yalobusha171340
Walthall145348
Lawrence141626
Greene139734
Amite136943
Noxubee134835
Perry133238
Montgomery132244
Carroll125931
Webster121032
Jefferson Davis116234
Tunica113427
Benton106225
Claiborne105031
Kemper102329
Humphreys100133
Franklin87723
Quitman84619
Choctaw82319
Wilkinson77732
Jefferson71128
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 577463

Reported Deaths: 11510
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson841981589
Mobile47171860
Madison37047533
Tuscaloosa26915465
Shelby26873256
Montgomery25918625
Baldwin24499328
Lee16949181
Calhoun15252332
Morgan15017290
Etowah14778370
Marshall12933235
Houston11774292
Elmore10761217
St. Clair10617252
Limestone10574158
Cullman10363205
Lauderdale10083254
DeKalb9382191
Talladega8836188
Walker7681287
Autauga7479114
Jackson7317117
Blount7266139
Colbert6635142
Coffee6163132
Dale5453117
Russell470642
Chilton4682117
Covington4649125
Franklin450081
Tallapoosa4440156
Escambia427882
Chambers3898125
Dallas3717163
Clarke367763
Marion3427106
Pike327879
Lawrence3225101
Winston294973
Bibb284565
Geneva276383
Marengo259967
Barbour246261
Pickens240062
Butler238272
Hale232778
Fayette225264
Henry209245
Monroe197241
Randolph196744
Cherokee196348
Washington180139
Macon168752
Crenshaw165558
Clay163759
Cleburne160245
Lamar149938
Lowndes144854
Wilcox130531
Bullock126142
Conecuh119630
Coosa116929
Perry109928
Sumter109032
Greene98736
Choctaw64325
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Friday we will see the hottest and most humid day of the week. We will see many areas top off in the 105 to 115 degree heat index. Some areas will approach 120. Very little chances for some isolated showers and thunderstorms for the late portion of the afternoon.
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