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BLOG: Is Facebook really the 'Borg of the digital world'?

Robert X. Cringely | June 26, 2013
Or are some people addicted to paranoia? The lesson from Facebook's latest data breach: Don't confuse stupidity with evil.

So I'm not seeing a big hooha here. But that didn't keep some journos from jumping on the paranoia pony and riding it all the way home. Take Techcrunch's Natasha Lomas, who called Facebook "the Borg of the digital world" and continued on in that vein quite vigorously for several hundred words.

You might never join Facebook, but a zombie you — sewn together from scattered bits of your personal data — is still sitting there in sort-of-stasis on its servers waiting to be properly animated if you do sign up for the service. Or waiting to escape through the cracks of another security flaw in Facebook's systems.

Facebook is a crowd-fueled, data-mining machine that's now so massive ... that it doesn't matter if you haven't ever signed up yourself to sign over your personal data. It has long since passed the tipping point where it can act as a distributed data network that knows something about almost everyone. ...

This behavior casts Facebook as the Borg of the digital world: Resistance is futile. It also underlines exactly why the NSA wants a back door into this type of digital treasure trove. If you're going to outsource low-level surveillance of everyone, then Facebook is one of a handful of tech companies large enough to have files on almost everyone. So really, forget the futuristic Borg: This ceaseless data-harvesting brings to mind the dossier-gathering attention to detail of the Stasi.

From Borg to NSA to Stasi in three paragraphs — that's one of the most impressive bits of blogonoia I've ever encountered. But what this really suggests is that a) it's been a slow traffic month for Tash, or b) she really needs to amp up the meds.

My point is not that Facebook is a warm and cuddly creature we should all nestle to our bosoms (while uploading all our contacts and sharing all of our Likes). It's that we should not mistake stupidity for evil. This was not another nefarious scheme to monetize our personal information or data mine non-Facebook users; it was just bad code.

Pretending this is yet another oh-my-god-we've-all-got-to-quit-Facebook-before-it-eats-our-brains moment is not just overblown, it's dangerous. There is real evil out there, or at least the potential for evil. We need to be able to tell the difference and to focus our attention on the things that matter.

There's plenty of things out there worth being paranoid about. This data breach is not one of them. 

Note: This post has been updated to correct inaccurate description of how the breach actually works.


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