I just completed rewatching Parks and Recreation. I have forgotten just how much I enjoyed this show. You just can’t get enough Ron Swanson, Andy Dwyer, April Ludgate, Ben Wyatt or Leslie Knope in your life. It’s one of the few shows that I could rewatch over and over without complaint.
In the later episodes of the show’s seven season run, a company called Gryzzl comes into play.
|— Spolers from here on out. I’m going to give you this warning. If you haven’t seen all of P&R and for whatever reason don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading here. —|
Gryzzl is a mashup of three big tech companies: Google, Facebook and Amazon. The first real mention of Gryzzl is when Ben attempts to get Gryzzl to fund a municipal WiFi project in Pawnee as part of a Gryzzl pilot program for these kinds of public internet projects. We really don’t find out about whether or not Gryzzl does use Pawnee as a pilot program until the beginning of the final season when Gryzzl is unescapable.
Gryzzl, who provides Pawnee with municipal WiFi, also pines to create their second headquarters in Pawnee for reasons that aren’t necessarily clear. There is a massive plot of land that goes up for sale and Gryzzl wants it, so they can build their HQ2 in Pawnee. While the main plot that revolves around Gryzzl doesn’t necessarily play here, the mission of the company does. Gryzzl just wants to connect people and services together, no matter the cost.
Everything Gryzzl does is data driven. By being able to have vast amounts of data on all users of their platform, they derive their products and services that they offer. As it turns out, they track website traversal, personally identifying information, location data, picture metadata and sales tracking, among other things. After some drones arrive with items that could have only been derived through data mining, the town of Pawnee unites in anger that a company could have free reign over the kinds of data it is collecting and the use of that data. The town is worried that their personal data is being misused for the benefit of Gryzzl. When confronted on this information, Gryzzl doesn’t feel as though they are doing anything wrong, as “it’s all in the EULA.” This is happening because of language in a document that takes someone with a law degree to understand.
It should be noted that the seventh season of P&R takes place in a fictional 2017 and was written sometime in 2014, to air in 2015. It’s crazy to think that the writers of P&R could spell out the intricacies of what exactly was going to happen over the next couple of years. Was it that obvious that no one saw it coming?
As the Gryzzl storyline comes to a head, Leslie and Ben go to Gryzzl to attempt to slyly get Gryzzl to admit to data mining. Gryzzl has no problem admitting to it because it is how they get business done. They are actually extremely transparent about it — almost too happen to admit that they data being collected by Gryzzl is mined for information because “wouldn’t it be tight if everyone was chill to each other?” Being chill to each other must also include tracking people to all corners of the earth.
Facebook, using it’s super cookies (a.k.a. ever cookies, a.k.a. UIDH), are able to tack users outside of Facebook by watching the advertisements that are loading via the packets that are being sent from you computer to the advertisers servers. These super cookies allow Facebook to gather personal information on users and non-users of the company’s products. Facebook builds profiles on people who aren’t even using their products via these unique identifiers due to the nature of how advertising works. Ad networks act as an ingestion point for this unique data and is shared via the deals that Facebook has with these ad networks. There is significantly more that Facebook does with their shadow profiles, however they are as equally unashamed that they do this. Facebook feels that Facebook needs to be able to gather all of this data in the hopes that one day these people join the network and are able to make new, more meaningful connections.
Is it ethical to have Facebook and other parties tracking us at every corner of the Internet, building profiles about us even if we aren’t even on their platforms? That question got even more interesting with the Cambridge Analytica news that broke last week.
How would Gryzzl respond to a crisis like Cambridge Analytica? I suspect that Gryzzl wouldn’t care — they would openly admit to what they are doing, have no shame in doing that and claim it was all to make their experience better. They opt everyone into everything or make it easier to set up the app if you opt into everything because it wants all the data it can get. It would almost be refreshing if that was the answer that we got from Zuckerberg when he spoke to CNN on the manner. At least then we could just claim “capitalism” and begin the regulation of an industry.
Facebook, on the other hand, now has to worry that they will lose everything over this. Advertisers are at their wits end, users are starting to get wise and delete their facebook accounts (although, does that mean they are also leaving WhatsApp and Instagram — an interesting research topic) and changing their option policies to “opt-out” of things they didn’t even know they got optioned into because they don’t want to be a part of a network that is so haphazard with their personal information.
I wondered when this day would come — after all before Facebook, it was MySpace. Before MySpace, it was GeoCities, Xanga, Live Journal and Blogger. Before that it was BBSes and forums dedicated to private communities. What I’m getting at here is that new technologies always end up superseding the current leader. Facebook’s time in the good graces of the public and test industry may be over. What comes next? Who knows.
I can’t sit here and say that I know what the future of Facebook is — they could come out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal unscathed. They could end up being the catalyst for intense regulation for all Silicon Valley companies. The tech industry is going to be disrupted — not by a new up and coming technology but by the regulators and politicians they have been trying to avoid during the entire Web 2.0 bubble.
It’s interesting times we live in. Good job, Parks and Rec, for trying to get us to see this far sooner than now. It’s too bad we didn’t listen.