Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to rehabilitate Facebook’s image is not going well. Since announcing a revamped “privacy-focused vision” for the company just months ago, it has faced multiple new and major security breaches.
The latest has seen up to 419 million users’ phone numbers exposed on an unprotected server and comes only weeks after the company was hit with a record $5 billion fine by the US Federal Trade Commission. The FEC fine followed a probe into the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal, which was the lightbulb moment for many in gauging the true scale of Facebook’s privacy problem.
Recent suspicions that Zuckerberg’s grand vision for a privacy-focused Facebook utopia were nothing more than an exercise in PR have been well and truly validated.
History of failure
Revealing his new privacy-centered agenda in March, Zuckerberg was responding to years’ worth of security scandals. The controversies are piling up so quickly now, that users barely have time to digest one before the next data breach is exposed.
Weeks after Zuckerberg laid out his new vision, it was revealed that millions of passwords dating back to 2012 were accessible in plain text by up to 20,000 employees. Facebook described it as a “glitch” to be fixed. Shortly after, we learned from the UpGuard security firm that data belonging to 540 million Facebook users was left exposed and publicly accessible by app developers. Facebook did take steps to reduce third-party access to data after the Cambridge Analytica debacle, but it seems Zuckerberg shut the door after the horse had bolted.
At roughly the same time, as if things could get worse, the platform was caught red-handed asking new members for their email passwords during the sign-up process. Facebook batted the criticism away by explaining that users could “bypass” that step and opt for a more long-winded process to create an account if they wished.
Cambridge Analytica might have been the scandal to cause the biggest stir, but it certainly was far from the only one of its scale.
The company apologized again in September 2018 after hackers used a vulnerability in its code to gain access to online access keys for 50 million accounts. Facebook said at the time that it didn’t know who was behind the breach or where they were based. Nor did it know if, or how, information was misused. Reassuring, as ever.
A “bug” later gave third-party apps access to photos belonging to 7 million users in December 2018 — but that was a minor mishap in comparison to some of the others.
It’s not just massive data breaches that have people concerned about Facebook’s apparently blasé attitude to user privacy, either. There’s a whole bunch of other sneaky methods by which the company uses its users’ information — very much on purpose.
The access key breach revelation came only one day after the company admitted that it was using phone numbers provided by security-conscious users who set up two-factor authentication to target those users with ads.
Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported that popular Facebook apps like FarmVille had access to user data allowing them to track their online behavior – and some of those apps were sharing the information with other companies.
Then there was the time Facebook decided to try a secret online psychological experiment, playing with its users’ emotions by manipulating their news feeds to make them feel happier or sadder based on what they saw.
Or how about the time a Facebook data scientist admitted that the company had boosted voter turnout during the 2012 US presidential election by 3 percent by altering newsfeeds and getting people to see more hard news than personal posts from their friends. As usual, users were not notified about this experiment.
For all its platitudes and promises, Facebook doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about its privacy problems and has found plenty of time to put into other endeavors. Like ‘Facebook Dating’ for instance.
The company just launched its ‘Facebook Dating’ app, which allows users to select their “secret crushes” from their Facebook friends list (or Instagram followers) in the hope that they may be matched with them through the app. What could possibly go wrong? Or, perhaps the better question is, who in their right mind, could trust such an application coming from Facebook?
Zuckerberg may wax lyrical about privacy giving people “the freedom to be themselves” in damage-control blog posts, but in a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit, Facebook lawyer Orin Snyder seems to have revealed the uncomfortable reality: “There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy.”
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