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Roger McNamee, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (New York: Penguin Press, 2019), 336pp.Roger McNamee, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (New York: Penguin Press, 2019), 336pp.

For thirty-four years Roger McNamee was a quintessential tech insider, optimist, and cheerleader for Silicon Valley. As a venture capitalist he was an early investor in Facebook and a personal adviser to a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg. Then came the 2016 election that was impacted by FB, and the revelations about Cambridge Analytica. Today McNamee believes that FB is a "catastrophic failure." He calls this book his "conversion experience."

It's hard to exaggerate the influence of FB. It has upwards of three billion monthly users, about 40% of the world population. In 2016 — over four years ago, which is an eternity in the tech world, Propublica collected more than 52,000 unique attributes that Facebook uses to profile us. It purchases even more data from outside sources. It has what McNamee calls "near perfect information" about us, and it uses those profiles to engineer mass behavior addiction in the pursuit of profit.

McNamee is the first to commend the benefits of FB, but for many people the dark side of this digital world has become obvious. Its deleterious influence on our children. Issues of privacy. Comprehensive global surveillance. Election interference. Bad actors who exploit the system. Massive data breaches. Filter bubbles. Fake news. Hate speech. Worst of all, in McNamee's opinion, is how all these things combine to undermine our democracy.

The response of FB has been to "deny, delay, deflect, and dissemble." They claim to be a platform and not a media company. They invoke arguments about free speech. They insist that tech is "value neutral." They can't be responsible for third party actors. Zuckerberg's ambition is said to be unlimited, his optimism about his mission unbounded. Criticisms are merely a public relations problem, and so he and COO Sheryl Sandberg hired their own personal pollsters. At the end of the day, in McNamee's view, FB does far more harm than good. With an authoritarian corporate structure that consolidates all power in the hands of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, they alone can fix FB, but that is never going to happen. And so McNamee recommends aggressive anti-trust regulation and breaking up the behemoth.

Dan Clendenin:

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