Facebook is selling user data, even as Facebook does not sell user data
By: +David Herron; Date: April 4, 2018
Facebook is under extreme fire currently over "leaks" of user data to 3rd party firms, such as Cambridge Analytica who has reportedly used that data for political manipulation projects. The current issue is that miscreant 3rd parties have been exploiting Facebook API's to access user data and build gigantic databases of user information and preferences. The situation is causing Facebook to loudly deny it is selling user data to anyone, and claim the company sells NO user data at all. Unfortunately that's a lie.
The question is - how well does Facebook handle, and protect, user data.
During a conference call with the media on Wednesday, Zuckerberg said “For some reason, we haven’t been able to kick this notion, for years, that people think that we sell data to advertisers. We don’t.”
Technically that's almost certainly true. Facebook does not offer a service where an advertiser, or anyone, can download a database of user information.
But ... there is an adage going around: If you're not paying for the service, then you are the product.
We do not pay for using Facebook, therefore we are being sold to the people who pay money to Facebook, the advertisers. We just said Facebook isn't selling user data, and now we say they do, how can we make both claims?
While Facebook isn't selling data downloads containing user data, Facebook is selling services that are based on how Facebook has collected a vast amount of data about its users and their actions, preferences, likes, dislikes, and so on.
Primarily those are advertising services. Advertisers pay money to place ads on Facebook. The Facebook advertising platform offers highly detailed targeting of people based on various attributes. Those attributes are not invented out of thin air, but instead Facebook derives those attributes based on pages liked by a person, the topics they post/comment, the people they interact with, and more.
In other words, Facebook isn't selling user data, but is selling services developed from user data.
Zuckerberg saying Facebook doesn’t sell data is like an energy company claiming it doesn’t sell coal. The individual words may be true, but the sentence is a big fat lie.