According to Vladan Joler and his team, the data of interaction of users – including liking, commenting, sharing etc. – offers the complex algorithms that power the social networking site ‘Facebook’. Mr. Joler says that those interactions of the user are transformed into a product in the social media platform.
All of us are working for Facebook: Mr. Joler
Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade started investigating the inner workings of Facebook a couple of years ago. The team includes some experts in data visualization and cyber- forensic analysis and it has already looked into the “different forms of invisible infrastructures” behind the internet service providers of Serbia. Now, Mr. Joler and his team are working under a project known as Share Lab and they have their sights set on a bigger target.
Mr. Joler, who works as a professor at Serbia’s Novi Sad University as well, said that the social media giant would be bigger than China if it were a country. The Silicon Valley based tech giant stores over 300 petabytes of data, said Mr. Joler. He added that the social network raked in around $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in last year alone and has almost 2 billion users.
He says, “All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook.” He says that they have tried to map all the inputs – the fields in which they interact with the social network – and the outcome. He adds, “We mapped likes, shares, search, update status, adding photos, friends, names, everything our devices are saying about us, all the permissions we are giving to Facebook via apps, such as phone status, wifi connection and the ability to record audio.”
This is just a small picture
All of this research done by Mr. Joler and his team provided only a fraction of the full picture. Hence, the team looked into the acquisition deals of the tech giant and checked its various patent filings. The results were not what they expected. The flow charts showed how the data that the users give the tech giant is used to calculate their political affiliation, ethnic affinity, travel schedule, sexual orientation, social class, and much more.
A map showed how everything from the pages users like to the links they post on the social media platform to their online behavior in many other corners of cyber-space that are owned by Facebook (like WhatsApp, Instagram) – could be entering a algorithmic process. Mr. Joler says, “If you think just about cookies, just about mobile phone permissions, or just about the retention of metadata – each of those things, from the perspective of data analysis, are really intrusive.”
Dr Julia Powles, an expert in technology law and policy at Cornell Tech, said Share Lab’s work is probably the most comprehensive work mapping Facebook that she has ever seen. She adds, “It shows in cold and calculated terms how much we are giving away for the value of being able to communicate with your mates.”