I thought I was having a bad year, but there is one company that might end up beating me in that category. And that’s Facebook, if you can imagine. The latest message that we are hearing is that we, as consumers, aren’t actually consumers, but the product itself. This seems to be the case with many tech giants. They offer users free search engines, or social media accounts and in exchange, they collect user data which they sell for advertising and then target you. It’s kind of genius, but the evil kind. During an investigation by the New York Times, it’s been revealed that the marketplace for data is even bigger than many consumers suspected. Facebook collects more data on more people than any other private corporation ever has.But what does all this mean?
Back in April, Mark Zuckerberg stood before Congress and indicated, “we don’t sell data to anyone”. What he was saying was that all the data that Facebook actually collects from its 2.2 billion users will continue to remain safely in the hands of Facebook. That has been a statement by Zuckerberg over the last year. But this is also the message that we’re hearing from others in his corner. According to the New York Times:
“While it is true that Facebook hasn’t sold users’ data, for years it has struck deals to share the information with dozens of Silicon Valley companies. These partners were given more intrusive access to user data than Facebook has ever disclosed. In turn, the deals helped Facebook bring in new users, encourage them to use the social network more often, and drive up advertising revenue.”
Over the last year, it’s been revealed what kind of access that Cambridge Analytica had. If I’m being honest, it was a lot and it was also kind of scary. But apparently, Facebook continued to give large tech companies access to even more including the data of hundreds of millions of people a month. More specifically, email addresses and phone numbers. This was without users’ knowledge or even consent. And yes, this is on top of the data of 87 million Facebook users that was given to Cambridge Analytica back in 2016.
The worst part about all of this is that Facebook never directly told users that it was sharing data. The New York Times managed to obtain documents which show that Facebook shared data with more than 150 companies. Even if users disabled their data sharing capabilities, it didn’t mean anything as many of the partners’ applications never appeared in Facebook’s user application settings. That means, their data was still being shared without their knowledge or consent.
All that said, Facebook needs to find a way out of this, and also to atone for their actions. We’ve been hearing that calls for regulation are the answer, and I still think they are. But, back in 2011, a consent agreement was drawn up with the Federal Trade Commission. This required Facebook to strengthen its privacy safeguards and disclose data practices more thoroughly. I mean, we kind of know what happened there. That said, the Federal Trade Commission is sort of the one that should have been monitoring this more closely. We are now nearing the end of 2018, and it makes you wonder if we will hear any more “news” about how Facebook has handled its user data over the last few years.