Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A lot of people these days think Facebook Inc. has become an incorrigible, toxic "regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance" under the near-absolute control of a "sovereign and singular ruler," as University of North Carolina information scholar Zeynep Tufekci summed up in Wired a couple of weeks ago.
I'm not sure the harshest Facebook critics are right. I agree, though, that the company is different even from rival miners of user data, such as Google. Google provides discrete services (search, email, maps, etc.) in exchange for exploiting what it learns from its users' behavior to better target ads. At Facebook, the targeting and the core service seem inseparable. The social network is a "utility," as founder and sovereign ruler Mark Zuckerberg used to tell people before it became clear that this might have negative regulatory implications. It is also, as he once told tech journalist David Kirkpatrick, "more like a government than a traditional company."
This provides an interesting lens through which to view the question that has launched a thousand thinkpieces over the past month: What is to be done about Facebook? Think of the company as a global government ruled by a despot, and the options do seem quite limited.