The spy behind the screen

Interesting news today that Facebook has denied Admiral the right to use its data for its Firstcarquote app.

The news is undoubtedly welcome from a data freedom point of view – it could indeed lead to decisions which have all kinds of implications as regards the perpetuation of social bias based on race, gender, religion or sexuality – although I’m not quite sure that Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group is right to give Facebook as much credit for the – perhaps temporary – withdrawal of permission as his press release does. It is a step in the right direction, admittedly, so I can see where ORG is coming from – but it is an infinitesimally small one.

There is undoubtedly more to this than Facebook suddenly deciding to uphold the data privacy of its users. The app might well, as referred to in the news pieces, contravene Section 3.15 of Facebook’s platform policy, but Admiral has been working with Facebook on this app for months and the principle of data privacy seems a strange one to crop up at this – very last minute – stage. Besides, the whole point of Facebook is to collect data on user preferences, likes and dislikes, and views, the mining of which to monetise at some future point. That’s why so much money has been chucked at it in the past. Note that the rest of Section 3 of the platform policy – which is titled ‘Protect data’ – is not so much to do with the protection of individuals’ data but to ensure that the data that third parties receive is not then compromised (resulting, presumably, in its value being undermined). And note also that it is rather arguable whether Section 3.15 itself is actually contravened in practice by what the app is reported to do.

It’s probably not quite as simple as Facebook deciding that it wasn’t going to make enough money from the app, and therefore deciding to withdraw permission; or that it has other plans with other insurers which might be jeopardised by letting this partnership with Admiral go ahead. Either (or both) might of course be true: time will tell.

But, quite clearly: beware the claims to data privacy mounted by organisations the sole purpose of whom is to collect your data. As Red Riding Hood found out, grandma has big eyes all the better to see you with.