You design your service

Facebook’s Press Release after the Cambridge Analytica story unfolded is one perfect way to show how the whole company thinks. While it’s clear that Facebook didn’t follow their claim to “Protecting people’s information is the most important thing we do at Facebook.”, they declare it Cambridge Analytica’s fault that they used data that Facebook and their users gave them unnecessarily. The whole story is about how you design your own service and how you enforce your values and ethics in your company.

With Facebook, it’s relatively easy to see where they come from and what their main goal ever was and still is: Farming their users to make money with their data. Aral Balkan shared this years ago already but today we see the direct evidence and results of it. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook even said once: “They [Facebook’s users] trust me — dumb fucks”. Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook because he wanted to stalk some specific people at his university and get data from them. Now that you know some history about the service, do you still see it as a service that has the indication to help you or humanity? With the knowledge that they can identify nakedness and other inappropriate content very well but claim to struggle identifying violent and harrassive, or even fake news posts—do you still trust them that it’s their intention to remove such content? Consider that Facebook makes money with posts that get a lot of views, and now think how many views a fake news video might get over a neutrally, real video. It gets clearer that it’s not in Facebook’s interest (and feel free to port that over to YouTube and similar services as well) to remove such content.

Now let’s reflect how services are built. Nowadays, a lot of products are built with a business plan that doesn’t make points on how to earn actual money. Instead, the goal is to raise money from any venture capital investor to fund the company idea. Often people don’t look what the investors do, if they invest in war-machinery, in data-farming technology, in surveillance. But what if we would ensure that our company can share our values, and is built with our users in mind? It’s unlikely that we would end with an app that asks for continuous location data, continuously syncs the address book. And it probably won’t state in the terms and conditions and the privacy policy that the data gathered is shared with third-parties and used to earn money.

If we build our company with capital that works in line with our ethical values, the product can be a real, reliable help to people. The capital itself can be our own or from the seldom investor who has ethical values that help humanity. I know this is hard work but there’s one question you need to ask yourself. Is your intention to make quick money or to build a service that helps people and finances your life over the next decade(s)? If it’s the latter, better spend a few more months into building exactly what you want instead of selling the product you love to someone else.

I haven’t spoken to Brian Acton, the former co-founder of Whatsapp myself but now he publicly told people that “it’s time to delete Facebook”. I don’t believe he’s still happy that he sold Whatsapp when he says something like that and now works on privacy technologies such as Signal. So even with billions in your pocket—what are they worth if you know they’re dirty money and you only have it because you sold other people’s data? The imagination to not working anymore once you have enough money is illusional. You can see that when looking at all the ‘successful’ founders who sold their companies for a lot of money. Almost all of them continue working on different products now and will work until they’re 60 or 70 years old as well. I know these realistic views aren’t catchy and might not be as attractive as being ‘famous’, earning millions. But only when you’re realistic about yourself, your life, and where your money comes from you will live a true happy life.

“I know that I am responsible for what I work on”

It’s you who designs your service. If you’re an engineer, it’s you who builds the API and the permission model which third-party gets access to which data. If you’re a designer, it’s you who designs the interface to ensure people understand what they’re doing when granting access. If you’re part of the company, it’s you who decides whether the service will work when users block Google Analytics or Crashlytics. It’s you who decides which data the service really needs. If we start with that in mind, it doesn’t matter if I’m working for someone else or myself. I know that I am responsible for what I work on.

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