Facebook Privacy Scandal: South Park Tried to Warn Us, but We Didn’t Listen

(ANTIMEDIA) — Facebook is bleeding users and credibility as it continues to face scrutiny for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which dominated headlines last week.

One major point of contention is Facebook’s acquisition of users’ contact lists.

But in a statement issued this week, Facebook subtly rebuked the outrage, explaining they disclose their practice when users sign up:

The most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it’s a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts…

Contact uploading is optional. People are expressly asked if they want to give permission to upload their contacts from their phone – it’s explained right there in the apps when you get started. People can delete previously uploaded information at any time and can find all the information available to them in their account and activity log from our Download Your Information tool.” [emphasis added]

Facebook has been exploiting user data for quite some time, though it now faces heightened criticism in the context of Donald Trump’s rise to power. But South Park, the long-running, highly-controversial adult animated series, actually offered biting commentary years ago on the subject of users signing away their rights.

In its Season 15 premiere, aired in 2011, the show poked fun at consumers’ habit of agreeing to terms of service without ever reading the fine print. In a particularly grotesque South Park episode, the show imagines the now-deceased Steve Jobs kidnapping Apple users to be part of a “humancentiPad” experiment, attaching the users together “from mouth to anus.”

The consumers used in the experiment are outraged and horrified as they wait in a jail cell. When Kyle, a main character, is also rounded up to be part of the humancentiPad, another woman asks him, “You agreed to the iTunes terms and conditions, too?

I just clicked ‘Agree.’ I didn’t read it,” she says frantically. “I was in a hurry, you see, and I-I didn’t know what I was agreeing to!

In a later scene, Kyle says he wants out of the experiment, and Jobs hands him a contract to sign that the late Apple chief says will release him. “Fine, you don’t want to be part of this? Then just sign right here,” Jobs tells him. Kyle quickly scribbles his signature, and Jobs immediately exclaims, “No! You didn’t read it! This says we don’t ever have to let you out and we can do whatever we want! Damn it, why won’t it read?” Jobs yells (“it” refers to his newly-created “humancentiPad,” comprised of multiple unsuspecting people who didn’t read the terms of service before they consented).

Though this South Park episode focuses on Apple — which has its own issues with data abuse — the sentiment is easily applicable to other giant companies.

To be sure,  there’s no doubt Facebook and other companies should be in hot water for their abusive data policies. As Edward Snowden noted on Twitter last week:

Facebook makes their money by exploiting and selling intimate details about the private lives of millions, far beyond the scant details you voluntarily post.

“They are not victims. They are accomplices. Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as ‘surveillance companies’. Their rebranding as ‘social media’ is the most successful deception since the Department of War became the Department of Defense.”

Nevertheless, without some semblance of self-responsibility from the users who agreed to submit to these practices, it’s doubtful anything will change.

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