Facebook and the CIA

Summary:In a piece of carefully researched critique, Guardian Unlimited writer Tim Hodgkinson does a masterful job unpacking the politics of Facebook, implying that the company's backer's real agenda is the realization of the original American dream:Here at last is the Enlightenment state longed for since the Puritans of the 17th century sailed away to North America, a world where everyone is free to express themselves as they please, according to who is watching.

In a piece of carefully researched critique, Guardian Unlimited writer Tim Hodgkinson does a masterful job unpacking the politics of Facebook, implying that the company's backer's real agenda is the realization of the original American dream:

Here at last is the Enlightenment state longed for since the Puritans of the 17th century sailed away to North America, a world where everyone is free to express themselves as they please, according to who is watching. National boundaries are a thing of the past and everyone cavorts together in freewheeling virtual space. Nature has been conquered through man's boundless ingenuity.

In the process, Hodgkinson accuses Facebook's backer and in particular Peter Thiel of using the concepts enshrined in Facebook's technology for what he sees as dark purposes:

...by his own admission, Thiel is trying to destroy the real world, which he also calls "nature", and install a virtual world in its place, and it is in this context that we must view the rise of Facebook. Facebook is a deliberate experiment in global manipulation, and Thiel is a bright young thing in the neoconservative pantheon, with a penchant for far-out techno-utopian fantasies. Not someone I want to help get any richer.

Hodgkinson goes much further. Digging deep into the background of board member Jim Breyer asserting that his connections bring Facebook uncomfortably close to the CIA:

Facebook's most recent round of funding was led by a company called Greylock Venture Capital, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Greylock's senior partners is called Howard Cox, another former chairman of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What's In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their website), this is the venture-capital wing of the CIA.

Today, the Twitterspehere was awash with comments from people variously describing Hodgkinson's piece as a masterful piece of anti-Facebook material:

  • Poisy from Italy: I just read the article about Facebook. So is the CIA looking at my stuff?? Thank God I don't use Facebook that much...
  • Frank Edward Nora a podcaster from NJ: who knows... all I know is Facebook gives me the creeps. I don't like it
  • Neville Hobson new media maven: Easy summary of Guardian piece on Facebook: it's all a right-wing conspiracy with no redeeming value whatsoever and Strip out the sensationalist bias and opinion and the Guardian FB story has some very good points on lack of any real privacy.
  • Hugh MacLeod: uber cartoonist: Wow. Best anti-Facebook article I've ever read
  • Loren Feldman: bad man of video: Awesome read about facebook
  • Drew Benvie: rising PR star: That Guardian article on the evilness of Facebook really kicked off a discussion today huh! Lots of influencers seeing a new side to FB.

Interestingly, there was virtually no blog commentary from the US and it certainly hasn't made *Techmeme - a sure sign that Hodgkinson's evisceration has not traveled well. At least not yet. Instead, we see a critique of Mark Zuckerberg's performance on 60 minutes. Kara Swisher of AllThingsD did a great job calling the company to account on issues like Beacon but presenter Leslie Stahl fell short of asking the truly tough questions that many have already voiced on the interwebs. Charlene Li, analyst with Forrester, is largely positive about Facebook, but declared that:

A better question to ask is if Mark and his team have the right level of judgment that's needed to succeed, especially when it comes to understanding user privacy and advertising sensitivity. This appears to be their repeated blindspot, and they would do well to learn from their mistakes. That's the core of judgment, which is gained only through experience.

For myself, I thought Zuckerberg looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, turning in a tame performance that missed on almost all counts. But does it matter? If we are to believe Hodgkinson then it doesn't - at least not to Facebook:

The creators of the site need do very little bar fiddle with the programme. In the main, they simply sit back and watch as millions of Facebook addicts voluntarily upload their ID details, photographs and lists of their favourite consumer objects. Once in receipt of this vast database of human beings, Facebook then simply has to sell the information back to advertisers, or, as Zuckerberg puts it in a recent blog post, "to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web".

Maybe so. In the last couple of days, I've been spammed by some of my Facebook friends. Having seen what was sent on their behalf I'm convinced a Facebook bot has been at work. I know these people too well to think they would spam me deliberately.

In this blog, I get the chance to expose the shenanigans of the enterprise software vendors. When seen through Hodgkinson's eyes, companies I like to target look positively tame. It's not their tactics are any less reprehensible, it is the insidious way Facebook seems to be invading our lives. And with it, the very privacy issues that have been exercising the minds of people like Thomas Otter.

Like it or not, Facebook is going to have a significant impact on enterprise life. Whether that's directly through the way it advertises or indirectly through the dissemination of information it sells to direct the products and services which are developed on behalf of consumers. It can only be a matter of time before the Facebook metaphor is taken seriously at the business level and someone develops an enterprise version. In this regard, I can't see Oracle, IBM, SAP or Microsoft standing idly by. Can you?

UPDATE: * A reader advises me the story made Techmeme briefly this am but quickly fell away. I didn't see that. Apologies.

Topics: Browser, Banking, Enterprise Software, Legal, Social Enterprise

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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