And so with its new mind-reading scheme, Facebook could have more ammunition for its bottom line.
During his testimony, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg patiently insisted that Facebook does not sell data.
There is a very common misconception that we sell data to advertisers, and we do not sell data to advertisers. What we allow is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach and then we do the placement. So, if an advertiser comes to us and says, ‘Alright, I’m a ski shop and I want to sell skis to women,’ then we might have some sense because people shared skiing related content or said they were interested in that. They shared whether they’re a woman. And then we can show the ads to the right people without that data ever changing hands and going to the advertiser. That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.
In other words, all that Facebook does is send you ads that reflect your profile.
“People,” Facebook chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg told NBC’s Today, “are inputting data.” Unknown to most users, we sign a consent form that allows Facebook to use this data for their own ends. In a reported exchange with a friend, Zuckerberg once boasted of having data on thousands of individuals because “people just submitted it.”
That was when he was in Harvard. Today, people all over the world send Facebook information about themselves. Most of that data is voluntary - age, employer, relationship status, likes, location and the like. But, Facebook also collects biometric facial data without users’ explicit “opt-in” consent. It tracks you when you’re off its site, and it uses AI to analyze your behavior.
Still, Facebook wants more.
Facebook mind-reading technology
Over in Building 8, Menlo Park, California, 60 Facebook employees are working on technology that will allow others to read your minds.
In 2017, at the company’s annual conference, former Facebook executive Regina Dugan, head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), used two engineers as props to describe how the technology works.
You don’t raise your hand without your brain telling you to. The brain sends a message telling the muscles in your arm to raise your hand. Similarly, Facebook is working on sensor technology that will connect to the region of the brain where thoughts are translated into speech. It will translate those thoughts directly from your brain to a computer screen without any need for fingertips. The thoughts will be those you already want to share.
The benefits, according to Dugan, are incredible. Such technology will give you a closer way of connecting to your friends. The technology can help people with speech disorders, as well as those who are too busy to type. Oh and by the way, it will help us enjoy nature more (presumably because you aren’t distracted by texting).
The strangeness of geeks
It occurs to me that if I’m not typing into a phone, it doesn't mean I have more time to meditate or am more relaxed. I’m still composing an email with my mind, and I sure as hell want it to come out right to accurately relay what I want to say. Actually, I prefer typing to ‘thought writing’ because typing helps me clarify my thoughts.
Dugan said the mind machine would be useful in an emergency. So, say I’m biking and am mugged, and say I, somehow or other, chugged this clunky electronic headband or augmented reality glasses along with me - wouldn't it take more time to pull them out and adjust them, than to flip out my Android and text? Imagine the situation: Sorry, gentlemen, wait a few moments while I put on my paraphernalia. And please - dear PLEASE - let me think. That’s it. Now you can begin.
Facebook geeks are supposed to be smart. Seems to me, AI has hacked their brains.
All the secrets of your mind….
The Guardian hints at more nefarious reasons for Facebook’s mind reading invention. You wear this headband (or glasses) and your thoughts flow 100 words per minute through the sensors. Over in Facebook headquarters, a team of engineers sorts through the debris, retaining only the coherent stuff for your message. Quite how well you would know whether the privacy of your random thoughts are also being violated remains to be seen. After all, today’s meeting at Capitol Hill supported our contentions that Facebook harvests each and every nuance of your private data for its bottom line.
So what does Facebook have now? Not only your revealed data and ‘coherent’ thoughts - but far, far more. The company that has consistently been accused of manipulative practices also has your deliberately unverbalized dreams, desires, opinions. “All the better,” as the ravenous wolf said in Little Red Riding Hood, “to eat you with.”
Zuckerberg may say he’s for the community (“protecting our community is more important than maximising our profits”). Sandberg may insit the company is a non-profit (“We’re selling the opportunity to connect with people,” she fumbled, “but it’s not for sale.”). But there’s an old adage in technology: if you are not paying for it, you are the product.
Facebook recorded that for all of 2017, each of its consumers bought the company $84.41 in average revenue per user (ARPU). Of that, $81.92 came from advertising. As of January, 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. That is the equivalent of the population of Russia, USA, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan and China.
Look at its acquisitions. In recent years, Facebook bought:
- Parse’s mobile backend for $85 million
- Face.com’s facial recognition software for $100 million
- Instagram’s image sharing network for $1 billion
- Oculus Rift’s virtual reality technology for $2 billion
- What’s App instant messaging service for $19 billion
What's App alone is bigger than nearly 80 national economies, and that is just one of dozens of acquisitions by Facebook. So, Facebook must be hitting some pretty massive gold mine somewhere. “[Facebook users] are being treated like laboratory animals,” said Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor, who oversees an independent European Union authority that advises on privacy-related laws and policies.
The company already tracks your actions and relationships.
Soon, it will know your thoughts.