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Get a little closer to your screen. That’s it. Let me tell you a secret: Facebook is the best money machine on the internet and not a close call. *

Facebook may be an indefensible company normalizing invasive tracking of people for dollars. It is a place where extremists worldwide let hatred rebound. It can melt our brains. And it’s being sued or pushed by so many governments that I lost the count. You might hate it I might hate it But I almost can’t believe how many of us rely on Facebook and how stupidly successful it is.

The company said Wednesday that its sales – almost all of which come from the ads it sells on Facebook, Instagram, and its other apps – hit nearly $ 86 billion in 2020 and are growing rapidly, like my colleague Mike Isaac detailed here. 2.6 billion people use at least one of the Facebook apps every day, and the number of users continues to grow.

This is a company that gets into a different scandal every week that people say they don’t like, but its products are used by billions of people and companies that were being advertised like crazy during a pandemic to reach them.

And the really wild thing is that Facebook’s products cost the company next to nothing. The Instagram selfie of you getting vaccinated, mom’s post about a fundraiser, and your Facebook parent group – these are the company’s products, and most of us make them for free. This means that Facebook is very profitable.

I’ve written about corporate finance for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that combination of popularity, fast-growing sales, fat profits, and outright dislike. “The gap between Facebook’s public reputation and its financial success has never been so great,” Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner wrote this week.

Historians, tell me if there is a comparable company that is so abusive and yet so widespread and successful. (When you say that Gilded Age trusts like Standard Oil get close to Facebook’s critics who want the company to be wound up like the trusts from a century ago.)

Right before the coronavirus outbreak began, my colleagues wrote that strong companies like America’s tech superpowers would most likely get even stronger during this crisis. But if corporate financial returns rise for 2020, it’s clear that we’ve underestimated how much the rich would get richer.

Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, and other tech companies make products that people and businesses rely on to weather a pandemic. And they rake money over their fists with their hands.

I’m not sure how to feel about this. Yes, I am grateful that companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others are helping us work, go to school, shop and entertain, and stay connected during a time like this. But it’s also hard to ignore the divide between their mountains of money and the volatile health of most major economies in 2020 and the troubled finances of many families.

This is not a novel reflection on the owner and non-owner divide in this pandemic. I’m just again unsure of how to answer a key question: is what’s good for big tech good for all of us?

* (OK, good. Google Search may be the best money machine out there. Feel free to argue with me!)

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Thursday is data protection day. (Cue the Ballons!) This fake holiday has become an opportunity for Facebook to remind people to review their privacy settings. It is also an opportunity for me to remind you that this is a charade.

Those nudges from Facebook, as well as the Apple privacy labels my colleague Brian X. Chen wrote over this week, and a California privacy law I wrote about recently, show a fundamental flaw in the way we treat our data in the US.

The mission is to let us know what data companies collect about us and to give us (some) choices. But I don’t want information to be the ultimate goal.

The focus on transparency of data collection (-ish) is that we have long privacy policies that give the choice between consenting to anything a company wants to do and not using the service.

This is why technology managers are touting our ability to erase voice recordings from our home – but don’t prevent the data from being captured in the first place. For this reason, the app that Brian uses to open and close his garage door also collects information in order to address him with Internet advertising. (REALLY.)

Washington Post columnist Geoffrey Fowler wrote that we should reformulate privacy around a simple question: Why is so much of our information being collected in the first place?

The answer is because businesses can. When every company from Facebook to garage door opener manufacturers is trying to collect as much data as possible, we can’t really opt out unless you want to cut yourself off from 21st century life.

So if Facebook reminds you to look at its 40,000 privacy settings, go for it. But I suggest you also remember Geoff’s question: Why is so much information collected in the first place?

A furby in baked beans. No I can’t explain People like to do weird Furby things. (I discovered this in the Garbage Day newsletter.)

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