A Look at Facebook’s Ongoing Data Troubles
Facebook has had a lot of pressure on it over the past few years. After taking the company public in 2012, the world’s most popular social network went on to make several high-profile acquisitions (Oculus, Instagram, etc.) to solidify their position in the market. As a result the company has a lot of responsibility to protect the immense amount of data that it takes in. This has opened up the tech giant to be heavily maligned in the media over the past year.
While the public wasn’t all-in on a lot of the criticism Facebook had faced over the past several years, they have had their fair share of problems. Regardless, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised early last year that he was going to fix Facebook. A month later, on February 2nd, 2018, Wired published a thorough investigation of the company over 2016 and 2017. This report would be just the start to a terrible year for the social media giant. Today, we will take a look at some of the many controversies that have found Facebook over the past year.
For those that don’t know their geography, Myanmar is a country in southeast Asia located on the Indian Ocean. For decades, several factions within the country have been fighting what is essentially a civil war with massive amounts of systemic murders. While investigating this genocide, the United Nations began pointing the finger at Facebook for essentially spreading hate speech throughout a country where access to the Internet is so limited that Facebook is thought to be the Internet by large portions of the population. Investigations about this matter revealed that Facebook was indeed helping disseminate hateful rhetoric, inflaming ethnic tensions thought the culturally divided country.
Germany has been dealing with a far-right anti-refugee issue for the better part of a decade. Facebook was thrown into the fire in 2018 as a report was published that linked the use of the social media site to a series of violent attacks against Muslim refugees.
Other reports from reputable sources, including the New York Times, suggests that Facebook is a major factor in the political-fueled violence found in both Libya and the Philippines in 2017-18.
Granted, Facebook itself isn’t building the harmful content, but factions are using the platform to spread propaganda and maligned content on Facebook.
On March 17, 2018, The British periodical, The Observer, published the first report about Cambridge Analytica. The data analytics firm that had once worked with now-American-President Donald Trump’s election team, as well as the Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters. What is to date the largest data breach in Facebook’s history resulted in immediate and furious scrutiny of the social network.
Cambridge Analytica, a company that was owned by billionaire Robert Mercer and headed up by Trump’s key advisor, Steve Bannon, used millions of people’s personal information that was taken without authorization in early 2014 to build a system that profiled U.S. voters and targeted them with personalized advertisements. In doing so many pundits have claimed that it affected the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.
What’s worse is that Facebook had found out about the breach in 2015, but didn’t bother to alert the users affected by it. It also took limited action in attempts to recover the stolen data of nearly 90 million individuals. Additionally, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer admits that nearly every user on Facebook has had his/her data accessed.
On December 19, 2018, the U.S. Government announced that it will be seeking to take legal action against Facebook for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This revelation is horrible news for the company, and the company’s stock dropped in value by 7 percent as a result.
Amid the other controversies, Facebook then begins to be ridiculed for collecting SMS and call data from Android users, without notifying any of the users. Facebook responded that users had consented to that data being collected by the company, a claim that millions of angry users denied.
General Data Protection Regulation
On May 25, 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)went into effect and almost immediately privacy advocates filed formal complaints against Facebook and its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp. The company said in a statement that it took a year and a half to become GDPR-compliant, but rumbles maintain about Facebook’s practices and how they fit under the new, Europe-wide data privacy mandate.
The New York Times exposed how Facebook worked backroom deals with smartphone manufacturers to give them access to significant amounts of users’ data. Deals with some of the biggest tech companies in the world include pacts with Apple, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft. Even recently, headlines have been popping up stating that Facebook’s app can’t be removed from new Samsung devices.
As one of the most utilized Internet-based websites in the world, one would expect that there would be attempts to steal data from Facebook. Therefore, it is Facebook’s responsibility to ensure that their users’ data is protected. But at least three times in 2018 Facebook dealt with breaches that exposed millions of users’ sensitive data.
Additionally, a New York Times report published on December 18, 2018 outlines how the company gave preferential treatment to certain companies, and provided access to much more user data than it publicly admitted to, and sometimes without the user’s consent.
Like any major multinational company, when people begin to criticize your company, the stock price tends to fall. To keep people from doing that, they often resort to underhanded practices. Facebook is no different, as the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg was at the head of a smear campaign designed to deflect the near-constant stream of criticism the mounting number of scandals brought on the company.
Regardless of all these scandals, Facebook remains one of the most popular services on the Internet. The company will have to prove to the people that they can right the ship, change its business practices, and be more accountable than it was in 2018 if it wants to continue to be a major player on the world social scene. People, businesses, and groups use Facebook every day to connect, collaborate, and share with one another. Is it worth the risk?
What do you think about Facebook’s 2018? Don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.