Data breaches don’t normally make for good television. The sensational items that the big news sites and stations pick up tend to center around subjects that the majority of the population can understand — not just the lucky techies among us who actually understand how all our crazy gizmos work.
You may wonder then, why the recent Facebook scandal made it so big. If you haven’t been keeping up with this story, you may not understand exactly how Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of data on 50 million Facebook users could affect you.
But that’s precisely why people are up in arms about it — because Facebook really was doing this to so many users without their knowledge.
The Biggest Data
The Washington Post first reported on Facebook’s model of “free labor” back in 2015. Recently, the popular social media news outlet Mashable revisited the topic. To quote the Mashable piece “You do two jobs for Facebook. You generate data and produce content. Facebook is essentially an advertising company, and every bit of information you disclose is data advertisers can use to influence how and what you buy.”
As creeped out as you might be about Facebook following your lurking, it’s not that surprising to think that Facebook tracks your movement on Facebook. Thanks to a few investigative users, however, we now know that Facebook also tracks the phone calls and text messages of many users.
Facebook claims that this was all done to help improve the experience for users, but Facebook’s methods are questionable. Users opt-in to share their data when they install the program. Recent versions of Android OS do break out the different permissions being granted; however, releases before 4.1 did not.
Declining permissions makes it impossible to use the app, so reporting on older versions was technically mandatory.
Another Legal Battle for Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg himself admitted that “most Facebook users” should assume their information has been gathered, and that until March 2018, other users could have used personal information like your phone number to look you up in the Facebook environment.
Three users are stepping forward and bringing a class action lawsuit against Facebook. Obviously, Facebook’s failure to communicate the way that its software functioned on versions of Android earlier than 4.0 is at the heart of the legal matter.
Facebook has sought to defend itself by stating that the data it collects is never sold to third-parties and is only held on secure Facebook servers. However, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal still fresh in the public memory, it’s unlikely anyone feels very confident in their dealings with Facebook these days.
It is tragic the way that our tech companies always seem to devolve from the pillars of hope we want them to be into Evilcorp. Facebook has become so ingrained in the modern way of life that it’s hard for many of us to imagine a world without it, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal started a movement in #deletefacebook, and this new lawsuit certainly only adds to that.
Zuckerberg has recently embarked on a media campaign to try and assuage some of the negative public sentiment after Facebook’s stock value dropped nearly 7% in a single month. This came after many months of negative performance.
Zuck’s apology tour is augmented by a number of full-page ads in major news publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The ad ran in seven British newspapers because of the closeness to Cambridge Analytica and higher readership in the UK.
“I promise to do better for you” sounds a little hollow when it’s followed up by another discovery that Facebook has violated our trust. But realistically, what did anyone expect? A company with access to so much information and the power to leverage it into billions of dollars in revenue probably wasn’t just going to sit idly by, was it?
Zuckerberg has promised to “investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before [the platform changed] to dramatically reduce data access in 2014,” but what this situation demonstrates is that even after that work is done, Facebook will still have a vested interest in using your data.
This is not a bell that can be un-rung. But if you’re concerned about privacy, you probably shouldn’t be on social media — or the internet — to begin with anyway.