Facebook Fabricates Trust Through Fake Intimacy
How design can make you forget what you’re signing up for
Imagine owning a robot that’s programmed to follow your orders, no matter what. With full predictability guaranteed, you’d be assured of absolute compliance and would never have to utter the anguished words, “Et tu, Beep Boop? I trusted you!”
If someone says, “I don’t trust technology,” she’s probably speaking in overly general terms. If she gets more specific and says, “Well, what I mean is I don’t trust self-driving cars,” she’s still off the mark. This statement really says she’s skeptical of the competence or good faith of self-driving car designers, companies, marketers, safety inspectors, reporters, regulators, or insurers. Her suspicion is that one or more of these parties in the sociotechnical system is putting lives in danger by making unreliable claims about how the cars will perform.
These (and countless other) examples of how we interact with technology show that trust always involves three things: vulnerability, risk, and power. When we offer up our trust, mild and momentary disappointment can follow, as can the tragedy of a betrayal that irrevocably severs ties. Without these risks, trust can’t exist. To be trusting, you have to relinquish control. And tech companies like Facebook—though it’s certainly not the only one—know this.
The Problem with ‘The Circle’
I wasn’t surprised when a spokesperson for a company — let’s call it “The Circle” — recently asked if I’d like to be considered for a spot on its ethics board. (The Circle, by the way, is not Facebook, in this particular example.) If consumers genuinely want heightened privacy protections, greater transparency, and more sway over how platforms organize and present information, then The Circle and its competitors can’t bank on surveillance capitalism as a surefire bet.
Perhaps The Circle genuinely wants to make the world a better place and is soliciting help to find the right path and stay on it. Then again, maybe the true agenda is courting good public relations, in which case folks like me will be used to manage optics. I couldn’t tell, and if you were in my shoes, I suspect you’d also be…