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Data's Deepwater Horizon Moment

Code Halos

Data's Deepwater Horizon Moment

If data is the new oil, Cambridge Analytica is a gusher Facebook needs to put out ... If you recall, the British Petroleum leased...

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If data is the new oil, Cambridge Analytica is a gusher Facebook needs to put out ...

If you recall, the British Petroleum leased oil rig, stationed 250 miles off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, sprung a leak in April 2010, and over the course of the next 87 days disgorged 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea – the largest ever spill in US waters.

The final cost of the disaster is still, almost eight years later, to be tallied. Litigation continues. Some estimates put the running total at $200bn. Non-disclosure clauses will in all likelihood ensure the actual final amount is never truly known to the public record.

Suffice to say, the damage was immense; not only financially (BP’s shares lost half of their value in the 50 days after the accident), but to life and limb (eleven lives lost, scores of others injured), the environment, and to careers – Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, was dismissed in the July of 2010.

However, BP survived. In 2017, it generated $240bn in revenue, making it the 12th largest company in the world by turnover. Its Helios logo (Helios – the Greek god of the sun) is ubiquitous at petrol/gas stations around the world. Even Tony Hayward engineered a second act, as chairman of the commodities trading and mining company Glencore Xstrata, the tenth biggest company in the Fortune 500.


Facebook’s data spill is, at the time of writing, causing existential damage to Facebook, its senior executives, its subcontractors (including CA), the investors in all of the involved parties, and – perhaps most importantly in the long run – to the whole idea of data being the primo resource of the 21st century. Facebook has lost $80bn in market capitalization in the last two weeks. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has shrunk by $10bn. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has been heavily criticized for leaning back (damaging her long rumored designs on high political office). #deletefacebook is trending. CA CEO, Alexander Nix has been suspended. CA’s backers – the Mercer family, Steve Bannon – have further been identified by their political opponents as shady puppet masters. Data biopsies are being sought, offered, and exposed by every company that trades on Code Halos and every journalist that smells a headline to be grabbed.

However, Facebook is surviving. Today its shares are up 4.42% (as of 10:33am ET, 3/30/2018). Its market capitalization values it at $464bn. (BP is worth $95bn). Mark Zuckerberg is today worth only $70bn.

Some crises ...

The question du jour (du la semaine, du mois, du an, du decennia) therefore is, are Christopher Wylie’s revelations going to change anything materially?

As has been pointed out if 45 had been President Hilary Rodham Clinton, CA would likely still be a going concern, and Robert Mercer would be happily continuing to play dress-up in the deserts of New Mexico far away from the eyes of the media.

Is this then simply a bump on the information super highway? Or the beginning of the end of the Age of Data? Is this a moment where ordinary-non-tech-combatant-civilians stop using Twitter, Gmail, Google Maps, Fandango, Netflix, Snap, Instagram, credit ratings, Siri, Uber, free Wi-Fi in cafes, Alexa, the App Store, their bank’s app, OpenTable, Amazon, Ticketmaster? Let alone Facebook ... Where marketers stop using data to sell cars and shampoo? Where Democrat pollsters stop trying to create personas of likely voters in swing states?

Is this a moment where people reject being “the product”? Is this a moment where citizens rise up against The Internet Research Agency? The Equation Group? The Shadow Brokers? PRISM? Palantir? Is this a moment where people disconnect? Where they reject the cost, convenience, and the tailoring of information and services that their phones and the Internet provides? Where they channel their inner Howard Beale – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it” (recently on the stage at London’s National Theatre playing to full houses)? Where they decide that the “dark side of the Halo” – a surveillance/advertising society– is not a place to homestead?

I don’t know.

We shall see.

My bet? I doubt it ....

I think Facebook will survive. Nay, thrive. I think the data storm will pass. The leak will be capped. Of course, regulation (for good and for bad) will be introduced. GDPR will change things a little (small “opt in” buttons everywhere, which most folks will treat with the same degree of scrutiny that they do “I accept” buttons currently), but not a lot. Hands will be rung. Digital immigrants will reference Orwell. European digital immigrants will reference the Stasi. Questions will be asked in the House. On the Hill. Wolf Blitzer will look like the disapproving uncle you visited once a year, even though he lived in the next town over.

But I don’t think the data genie will go back in the bottle.

There’s just too d-mn much of it.

It’s too important already. It’s already being harvested and sold and traded and monetized by everyone. And their wife. And it’s more “amusing that worrying ...” (according to the journalist in the above article).

Even though data will continue to be spilled, despite the best efforts of IT and compliance teams (and their IT suppliers) to make sure it doesn’t, data won’t go back into the ground.


Richard Hunter of Gartner published “A World without Secrets” in 2002 I thought it was a memo from the Department of the Blindingly Obvious then (sorry Richard!) and I still think it is today.

I think my 15 year old son assumes there’s no such thing as online privacy too.

If you want privacy turn off the Wi-Fi in your house. Shut the blinds. Buy a Faraday bag. If you’re really paranoid hire Frank Gehry to remodel your place in bacofoil. It’ll look great and make your town great again.

But don’t imagine – for a moment – when you’re on your phone, or your computer, or touching or using anything digital that you’re in a private space ... you’re not.

That is just a fact of digital life.

End of (this) story (for the moment).

Except it’s not ...

Watch this space. (In a non-creepy/surveillance kind of way). There are many millions more column inches to be filled with commentators assimilating to the new data driven world we’re in.

BP withstood Deepwater Horizon; Facebook will survive Cambridge Analytica. The next few weeks and months will test Facebook more than it’s ever been tested before. Some of its leaders may not survive the inquisition. But the data age is here to stay – we’re already deeper into it than we know, and reversing out of is simply unrealistic.

In the meantime, to soothe your fevered brow, here’s Sting’s take ...

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