Facebook teaches us yet again that technology is a tool, not a toy

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It’s hard to know where to start, hard to know what to say.

Once again, Facebook can’t seem to get out of its own way. Some of its problems both known and new this week are of its own making, and some are just, well, like your mom said, the company you keep.

Let me catch you up on what’s happened in just a few days last week.

June 3: It was just recently on April 10 that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donned an actual suit and testified before the Senate. Zuckerberg’s testimony was more a sin of omission: He insisted that Cambridge Analytica’s access was cut off in 2015 when the company began prohibiting developers from collecting info from the friends of users. But he neglected to clarify that a whole group of device makers — Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Samsung, Microsoft, and more — were exempt from those rules.

So it came as a surprise last week that Facebook’s device partners — about 60 of them — have continued to have access to user data. That spigot was turned off just in March, but it remains unclear whether partners in the U.S. and abroad still have your personal data under their control. They were not supposed to… but we know how that goes (see Cambridge Analytica).

June 6: Under grilling from a committee of Parliament, the former head of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, admitted he lied in previous testimony. Yes, CA did get information about roughly 87 million Facebook users from Global Science Research, a third-party firm that developed the quizzes used to gain access to Facebook users’ personal info and, importantly, the information about all their connections as well. So, the three-minute distraction of determining what ’40s movie star you are most like is the gift that kept giving for you and all the hundreds of your friends.

June 7: In May, Facebook experienced a glitch. Just a little problem, one that turned the default sharing setting of 14 million users to public. In IT development, there is a joke: “It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.” And that’s what Facebook is saying about this incident: that they were testing new features and… oops… a setting got changed. If you were one of the 14 million people affected, you may have received a Facebook notification late last week.

June 7: The Atlantic reported that concerned users are backing off the Facebook experience — and maybe off the entire social media train. The results come from a survey the publication conducted in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Living Online Lab at the University of Michigan. A few key points:

  • 78.8 percent of respondents are very or somewhat concerned about the privacy of their information on social media sites.
  • Eighty-two percent are self-censoring — stopping themselves from posting something they want to share because of privacy concerns — what they post online.
  • 57.9 percent of respondents who use Facebook “mostly distrust” or have “no trust” in Facebook’s efforts to protect their information.
  • 41.9 percent of Facebook users say the CA news changed their behaviors on Facebook, and 74.4 percent said it affected how they used other social media sites.
  • Some really bad news for social media: People seem less committed to the importance of social media in their lives. 70.9 percent said losing Twitter would have no effect on them. 59.9 percent had a similar view of Instagram. 81.2 percent felt no real need to have LinkedIn. 53.8 percent could do without Snapchat. 80.9 percent nixed YouTube and, finally, 92.1 Pinterest users would be just fine without it. Facebook definitely had a stronger hold on people’s interests, with a mere 31.4 percent being ho-hum about a world without it.

Some really interesting security reports also came out this week. One reported that one-third of businesses know they will be hacked but would rather pay when it happens than invest in security. Another report found that globally two-thirds of companies are planning to move to the cloud, but as many as 80 percent cite a skills gap and employee “resistance” are holding them back.

What does all this mean? Well, it seems to illustrate a systemic problem that goes beyond social media to our use of technology in every sphere of commerce and communication: We want the tech, but we don’t want to learn how to use it or to be held responsible for our part in protecting our own sensitive data.

We talk about this all the time, you and I. So it’s hard to know what to say. Again. Technology is a tool, not a toy. Treat it with respect, and learn how to use it safely, before you cut your hand off and find that blaming the chainsaw manufacturer for not making the warnings clearer is cold comfort.

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