Browsing the blog archives for December, 2018.

Facebook’s dubious commitment to privacy

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has received constant criticism for his condescending view of consumer privacy. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the U.K. Parliament last week released a trove of internal Facebook emails that suggested the tech giant provided special access to user data to certain third-party developers. Several years prior, the company even considered charging developers for such access. Such a policy would probably be legal—as long as users accept the terms—but considering one suggests a lack of genuine commitment to Facebook’s longstanding “policy” of not selling users’ personal information.

But there’s more. In an October 2012 email, Zuckerberg questioned, “I think we can leak info to developers, but I just can’t think of any instance where that data has leaked from developer to developer and caused a real issue for us. Do you have examples of this?” Stop and read this quote again. Zuckerberg is downplaying the potential adverse effects that data leaks can have on the company. Where is his concern for the effects data leaks can have on consumers?

An internal memo from 2014 also suggested that Zuckerberg maintained “a small list of strategic competitors” that could not access some services available to other developers. During a 2013 online chat, Facebook’s Justin Osofsky referenced Vine, a Twitter feature that lets users make six-second videos. Facebook allowed Vine’s users to find their friends via Facebook, but Osofsky objected, stating, “Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends’ API [application programming interface] access today…We’ve prepared PR [public relations].” Zuckerberg responded, “Yup, go for it.”

I’m not criticizing Facebook for the hard-nosed competitive tactics Osofsky suggested, but it’s just not consistent with Zuckerberg’s public statements. I’m getting tired of Zuckerberg’s posturing about Facebook’s commitment to privacy, access, and openness to others on the Web. The U.K. documents provide strong evidence that contrary to company statements, Facebook’s commitment to privacy has always been negotiable. Zuckerberg’s “don’t worry about your data” assurance to consumers has attracted them in great numbers over the years. The truth may be out now, but unfortunately, it’s too late for the globe’s 2+ billion users who trusted Facebook from the start and cannot simply retrieve their data and sign off.

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