In the advertising world, the classic adage is “I know half my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half.”
I think your major point here is very important. In vilifying Cambridge Analytica specifically, we’re missing the heart of the problem. I don’t think the fact that the Obama campaign used social data or that advertising effects can be short lived is all that relevant.
It’s more important to recognize that massive amounts of your personal data are being made available and very smart people are trying their hardest to use it to change your mind. At it’s core, that’s not necessarily a new problem. Since at least Edward Bernays, there’s been an industry centered around changing minds. But the extent to which marketers today are able to target you specifically and speak to your emotion state is unparalleled.
We need massive doses of media literacy and a healthy skepticism of everything seen online. So far, it seems that most social media users continue to trust friends and family above any other informational source. That means these social networks are tinder boxes for misinformation. If you can find one user who’s willing to share, you can infect incredibly expansive networks. Facebook’s own research suggests that there’s an average of 3.5 people separating any two of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users. And now marketers have a better ability to identify those touch points.
Punishing a single company for misusing personal data is like locking up a robber for breaking into a house with no locks. Sure they did a bad thing, but the house is still unlocked for the next guy.
We need to make our systems and our selves less exploitable.