When the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election began to surface, the methodology of Facebook and other technology platforms became increasingly scrutinized. Then political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica admitted in March 2018 to exploiting Facebook to harvest millions of user profiles, causing people to really sit up and take notice.
In Zucked, venture capitalist and technology investor Roger McNamee (The New Normal) informatively outlines his concerns regarding Facebook privacy and information-sharing policies, and its contribution to political polarization. He contends that although advertising’s use of information-gathering techniques have been preying on our human vulnerabilities for years, algorithms and artificial intelligence bring them to a new level, enabling internet platforms like Facebook to “manipulate attention.”
Drawing on his years as a Silicon Valley insider, McNamee provides a fascinating background of the tech industry, explaining concepts such as Moore’s Law, metadata and cloud sharing services. An early advisor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, he authoritatively explains the route to Facebook’s success and how pathways opened up for the social media platform to become such a phenomenon.
He expresses his fear that internet platforms empower extreme views, leading to the creation of “preference bubbles,” giving each user his or her own reality. He describes the examples that led him to this conclusion and his path to activism, including meeting with senators, contacting the media and confronting Facebook executives directly. He discusses the need for regulatory oversight in order “to protect privacy and to limit the scope of data collection and artificial intelligence.”
The result is a nonfiction book that reads like a thriller, particularly since the story is still unraveling in real time. As McNamee points out, “Facebook has managed to connect 2.2 billion people and drive them apart at the same time.” Hopefully the readers of Zucked will think about McNamee’s suggestion to “bring people together in the real world” as a remedy for internet platform addiction.