Yes, I said that – Can you trust Facebook – with a straight face. Let’s do a little proof of concept on the word ‘trust’.
Can you trust Facebook to:
- Steal your data and use it against you? Yes.
- Make buckets of money without caring that is it doing so from your data? Yes
- F’up again as it has done so many times before? Yes
- Send the automaton Zuc to make yet another ‘mea culpa’ (My bad) apology and do it again? Yes
I think you get my drift. GadgetGuy is doing a series on Trust in a digital world (an excellent preliminary read) with specific reference to FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google although we may expand that).
Our first article was “Can you trust Google”, and the short answer is that depending on your definition of trust – you can. But we are still calling for legislation to ensure all big tech can be trusted.
Can you trust Facebook to F’up? Absolutely? Can you trust Facebook with your data? No.
Could Facebook survive with proper global data privacy legislation? No. Have Facebook shares dived off a cliff this week costing Zuckerberg (sorry his PR asks you to call him Zuc – it makes him appear more human) billions of dollars? Yes. Do we care? No.
Nothing personal Zuc – I am sure Motherborg and Skynet love you.
Sam Bocetta, our US correspondent and security expert, has been deep-diving into the murky waters of FAANG and writes.
Can you trust Facebook?
If you apply that word to Facebook’s long list of privacy invasions, sure you can trust it to invade your privacy. Like me and the rapidly growing #Delete Facebook movement we don’t trust Zuc as far as we can kick him.
The long list of Facebook privacy invasions
Facebook might be the worst company in the world. That might sound extreme but hear us out.
There are plenty of companies that collect huge amounts of data on their users, and who do so under ambiguous privacy policies that hide their true activities. Facebook is one of those. But what makes things worse is that the company is aware of its user privacy concerns and is consciously ignoring them.
Let’s take the most egregious (our new favourite word means staggeringly bad; shocking; obviously wrong and wrong beyond any reasonable degree…) example.
Back in May 2019, Facebook reportedly argued that it didn’t violate users’ privacy rights because there’s no expectation of privacy when using social media.
“There is no invasion of privacy at all because there is no privacy,”
Facebook counsel Orin Snyder said during a pretrial hearing to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In short, the company didn’t deny that third parties accessed users’ data, but it said that there was no problem with this because there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy” on Facebook or any other social media site.
This will not be news to many of you Aussies. In recent months GadgetGuy has reported on Facebook arguing with the Australian government about privacy rights, the scandalous fact that every time Facebook gets fined their shares soar, and the calls by the ACCC to rein in FB’s power.
And in case you needed more convincing, there’s the Off-facebook activity tool. Officially, this tool allows you to see a summary of the activity that you share with Facebook about your interactions, such as visiting their apps, websites, stores, etc.
The reality is that this tool does not even begin to show you all of the information that Facebook collects. In short, it’s paying lip service to users’ concerns by giving them the illusion of control.
We think that’s awful.
In this article, we thought we’d take the opportunity to revisit how Facebook has systematically undermined privacy. So, here’s a list of the eight most shocking examples of that.
1. Cambridge Analytica
Any list of the wrongs committed by Facebook must start with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was huge news back in March 2018, but here’s a reminder. A whistle-blower came forward and claimed that the company illegally harvested the personal details of 50 million Facebook users to profile them and target political ads.
The extent of Facebook’s involvement is still unclear – did it fall, or was it pushed? Perhaps the most shocking aspect of it is that Zuckerberg took FIVE DAYS to comment on the revelations. At which point he issued a wholly insubstantial ‘my bad’ non-apology.
Next, the glitches. Facebook has been one of the worst offenders when it comes to accidentally publishing user data. The largest such accident to date also occurred back in 2018, when a technical hitch caused the details of 14 million users to be published publicly.
Facebook is not the only company who’s messed up in this way. But if there’s anything we can learn from data breaches of this type, it is this. If your whole business model is collecting personal information, it’s going to get breached at some point.
Next up, the hacks. Facebook remains a huge target for hackers, and its merchant services systems are the biggest prize for them. Given the size (and presumed technical sophistication) of the company, though, it seems very bad at defending itself against them. We won’t even comment on the (lack of) pedigree of the university PHP code it is written in.
What makes matters worse is that the scale of Facebook means that a single hack can reveal the information of literally millions of people. In 2019, hackers were able to steal personal information from nearly 15 million accounts, and the company initially believed that 50 million users were affected in an attack that gave the hackers control of these same accounts.
The hacks and glitches above are well known. What was less well covered – and what makes Facebook worse than a lot of other companies – is that there are also suspicions that Zuc was personally involved in a program to “weaponise” the data they sold for political purposes.
It is alleged, in an ongoing court case, that this program amounted to a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business.
Given the quote above, it will come as no surprise that the UK Parliament has consistently criticised Facebook for not complying with requests for data on its operations. Though a huge cache of internal communications was released by a third-party developer after the UK parliament forcibly obtained it, Facebook then went on the offensive, claiming that this release violated THEIR privacy.
‘Zucpocrisy’ (our new word – the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case) knows no bounds.
6. Everything is For Sale
The privacy violations on this list would not be so bad if they were exceptions. Unfortunately, they are not. In fact, Facebook’s whole business model is based on selling private information to other companies as a means to boost its stock price. How this is discussed internally is also alarming. The same documents we’ve just mentioned reveal that Facebook considered selling ALL the data it holds to third party companies.
This is the new normal in 2020, but it is not. As BlueTree, a software research and analysis firm, note in their review of the SaaS sector, it is entirely possible for software companies to make money in ways other than selling private data. In short, Facebook has made a choice, and its choice is to invade your privacy.
7. Vague Privacy Policies
Given the business model of Facebook, it will come as no surprise that it has attempted to hide the true extent of its data collection and the level to which personal data is under attack.
The most direct challenge to the company’s vague privacy policies has come in the form of a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company “presents several wrongs, including a consumer bait-and-switch, an invasion of privacy, wrongful monitoring of minors and potential attacks on privileged communications”. Facebook said it asks for users’ permission to enable the feature that gives access to call logs.
8. Third-Party Access
Finally, perhaps the biggest problem with Facebook is not that it collects huge amounts of user data; it is that it has no control over how third-party developers use it.
Back in 2018, one such third-party developer invested $250,000 in developing an app called Pikinis that filtered users’ friend’s photos to find any of them in swimwear. Its launch was met with controversy, and Facebook claimed that it had stopped giving third-party app developers access to user data in 2015.
But – and this will come as no surprise – the Wall Street Journal then reported that Facebook continued to share users’ data with third-party developers even after the date that executives claimed the practice would stop. Facebook officials even confirmed this report.
You have two choices
If you trust Facebook, then wait anxiously for the Easter Bunny to crap all over your front lawn.
Or if you are like the massive movement that does not just #Delete Facebook
I know you can’t give up the Facebook drug so search for “How to secure your Facebook account” (and avoid those articles written by Facebook). It won’t stop Facebook abusing your trust, but it may stop you oversharing on social media.
GadgetGuy’s take – Can you trust Facebook? Sorry, no, nada, nein, niet, nahi, nee, nej, nah, nedda, Não…
If Sam’s deep dive contains some things you didn’t know about Facebook’s severe privacy issues, you might be wondering how you can protect yourself.
Easy: stop using Facebook. If the history of data leaks can teach us anything, it’s that you can’t trust any company with your private data, but especially not one that has based its whole business model on collecting and selling it.
The worst thing is that Facebook doesn’t even think this is a problem. And that’s why we’ll stick to our argument above: that in an admittedly crowded field, Facebook is the worst company out there.
BTW: Facebook is a generic term for all 82 Fakebook companies activities including WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, Messenger, Onavo et al. We have not even scratched the surface – read Wikipedia’s article on Facebook Criticisms.