Let’s talk about big data. And I don’t mean the normal sense people use it in.

Facebook has big data. They might be the only ones with actual big data.
They’ve potentially got more data than anyone else on Earth does. Let’s have a look at just how much.

June, 2017. Facebook celebrates the news of 2 billion active monthly users.
May 2013, Facebook celebrated hitting over 4 billion pieces of content a day. (this was 94% higher than the year before).
2008? Facebook celebrated 10 billion images. (And they had 100 million MAU, now they have 200x that)

How big is 2 billion people?

Let’s compare Facebook to the 10 most populous countries on Earth.

Let’s put that in perspective.
Facebook has more people using their service each month than any country on Earth has citizens.

But what does using Facebook entail?
You post. You browse. You search. You click. You pause when looking at things. You message friends. You post photos.

Real data extracted from my Facebook profile tonight

This is live data, exposed on my Facebook profile via Javascript. These are ranking scores for objects, people and places on Facebook. And it’s a pretty accurate snapshot of the last 7 days.

What can you do with that data?

And if you were Facebook? What data could you get from that data?
You know the words people post. You know whether people are happy or sad. You know how their friends feel about the content.
You know what people think about posting and then delete. (Yes, they do). You know WHAT people post photos of (Machine learning lets computers recognise objects in photos, and faces. Facebook can recognise you from multiple angles and even in the background of photos). You know when people search for someone. You know who they search for more often. You can read their messages. You know the nicknames people have for one another. You know what is most important to someone, and what they want to search for.
Yes. They do.

Here’s a screencap (blurred) of the data Javascript can pull out of my Facebook profile.

Facebook has ranked these objects. Users, former employers, groups I post in. And they are ranked based on what I will see/interact with.
Further down the list, a couple of people I don’t know. 15th on the list? Someone I have traded emails with on Gmail. Never spoken on Facebook.
We do post in a group together.

The data you post is all visible and accessible by Facebook.
And what does data tell people? Or rather, what does data tell a machine?

How about when someone is pregnant, by what they shop for? Yes, this is happening.
How about whether someone could be gay? Yeah, this is there.
What if someone has a second identity as a sex worker? Yep, this one too.

How about the fact that their data collection doesn’t stop on Facebook itself.

Tracking data isn’t just on Facebook

I’d like you to meet the Facebook pixel.

What the hell is that?
It’s a small piece of code that lives on a website and tells Facebook when you visit.
It’s a single pixel image. A 1×1 invisible pixel that loads.
It’s great data for companies to use. It tells them when you go to their website.
They can use it to track what you do.
Ever looked at a site and been served an ad for a discount coupon on Facebook? That’s the pixel.
I browsed for parts for my mower the other day. Now I see their ads twice a day.

These companies see great value in it. They can serve you ads if they know you looked at them.
What about excluding you? A company can choose not to serve you ads if you’ve been to a complaints or help page.

And who uses it? Everyone does.

And the ones who don’t? They use Facebook comments, and to login, and to like.
And on every one of those pages Facebook knows who clicks what. Because the pixel can see it.

Link out to your wordpress blog from Facebook like mine? Facebook knows who clicked out.
They know who commented.

Facebook knows everything we do, try to do and more on their site and app.
And they know it from all over the web.


Let's stop and think for a moment


Facebook has more data on human beings than any government. Than any government ever has. No organisation sits at their scale.

And they do use this data. They decide what posts you see. What ads you see. Which friends appear first on your contact list, who’s baby announcement you see.
They control when you see shared articles. This terrifying talk from Eli Pariser digs into what gets filtered and how it affects people.

This is uncharted territory.
In the history of mankind, in the entire history since we drew on cave walls in France, nothing and no one has had access to this much data.
Machine learning is bigger and better than it ever has been. And it finds things people can’t.
The question is, what is the limit here? What is our data being used for?
Where do we draw the line?

The reality is, that Facebook are alone.
No one, nothing has ever had access to more data about human beings than they do.
They know our wifi passwords, they know where we walk, when we drive and how fast. They know what we take photos of, and what we tell people.
They know when we fall in love, and when we stop. They know what our faces look like. They know who we search for longingly.

Facebook are a business. And their goals are invisible to us. And as an entity they have no soul. Facebook has no wishes, no desires, no morals.
These are all provided by the people within. Can we convince ourselves this is ok? Do you KNOW the people inside Facebook? Do you know what it’s CEO wants to do? Do you know where the moral line is drawn?

Because it isn’t where you think. Facebook deliberately manipulated the emotions of users in 2014.
This isn’t hyperbole, this isn’t clickbait. This is something that came to the surface. People were experimented on. What if those people were struggling with their own mental health issues?
What could the effects have been.

And this piece tells us one thing more important than anything in the article itself.
That Facebook is a company made up of MILLIONS of people. Who act and think independently of one another. That things can, and have happened that should not have.

And obviously more of it.

We can’t see the future, we can’t see behind closed doors.
But we can see the past.  We do know Facebook continues to grow.
We do know they have acted unethically in the past.

And as each day passes, we need to consider what this future is leading us into.
Because we’re in murky waters now.

This path has never been walked before.

Are we putting too much data into one companies hands?