Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Hansen: Regulation data use slippery slope


March 28, 2018

When I ordered a part online to fix my lawnmower, every website I visited after that, including Facebook, for a few weeks threw ads for lawnmower parts at me.

When I ordered a part for a bicycle repair online, the same thing happened. I could have built 50 bikes with the advertised parts that flooded every website I visited after that.

My latest: I ordered a musical keyboard case online. Now I’m inundated with ads for keyboards, cases and other musical accessories from three different musical equipment suppliers every time I venture onto a website, especially Facebook.

The assumption is just plain silly: Anybody who buys a lawnmower part, a bicycle part or a musical instrument case needs three dozen more — right now.

This is annoying, if humorous, and I think I’m supposed to be outraged at this apparent breach of privacy.

Advertisers who gain access to buying behavior of Facebook users are how Facebook makes much of its living. Facebook does not ask my permission, and I get overkill ads.

Facebook does, however, provide a great way to keep up with family and old friends for free.

Facebook is a passive carrier and its product is mostly capacity.

In that respect, it resembles the internet, only the internet doesn’t belong to anybody, not even Al Gore, even though Congress is itching to control it.

Now comes Cambridge Analytica, which used the same Facebook capacity as the people who want to sell me five dozen keyboard cases, to profile Facebook users who could be persuaded to vote for Donald Trump.

They didn’t get permission from the users they profiled, but then again, none of my haranguing advertisers asked me, either.

In modern campaigning, candidates are products and are marketed like Tide PODs. The candidate should develop a variety of views that interact like the colors of a Tide POD, and even be appetizing to behold, even if their hair matches the orange in a Tide POD.

Cambridge Analytica, like any decent marketing firm, used information from 50 million Facebook users without asking their permission. It was not the kind of information that would allow them to raid bank accounts and steal bitcoins, as North Korea did.

In that, I don’t think they were any different from my over-eager advertisers.

Why, then, is Congress raising an urgent appeal to regulate Facebook for letting Cambridge Analytica do with Facebook data what any other marketer would do?

I don’t think Facebook has done anything for Cambridge Analytica that it hasn’t done for anyone else selling lawnmower parts, keyboard cases or Tide PODs.

Facebook is the channel, and writing new laws for Facebook is akin to killing the messenger.

An afterthought: The Republican-dominated Congress has been huffing and puffing about excess regulation since the GOP acquired its majorities in both houses.

They should remember that most regulations start with Congressional representatives one-upping each other to overreact to a situation, then passing laws that become “enabling legislation” for reams of new regulations, the stronger the better.

It should end when the need ends, but it doesn’t. The regs just keep on coming.

That, I think, is how regulations become excessive.

With Facebook, I think Congress should take care to avoid more excess.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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