Eroding Trust in Facebook
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. I won’t rehash all the details, since it’s been covered ad nauseam, but new tremors continue to ripple through the tech giant. We covered last time the intended investigations by European legislators, but now, in the US, House leaders have summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding the incident (which some are still, somewhat misleadingly, referring to as a simple ‘breach’).
Although confirmation of Zuckerberg’s cooperation still isn’t completely certain, committee members are expecting his presence. For his part, Zuckerberg claimed that “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” to CNN and other news outlets. Coupled with this apology spree, Facebook has also since announced changes to its security and privacy settings. “So in addition to Mark’s announcements last week — cracking down on abuse of the Facebook platform, strengthening our policies, and making it easier for people to revoke apps’ ability to use your data — we’re taking additional steps in the coming weeks to put people in more control over their privacy,” reads a statement from Facebook executives Erin Egan and Ashlie Beringer. User control and ease of use are the goals, with tools including the option to delete one’s data.
Whether measures like these will ultimately be enough to placate an angry userbase, or slow responses like #DeleteFacebook from trending on other social media platforms, has yet to be seen. It probably won’t be sufficient to stop the lawsuits, with which Facebook has now started to be slapped.
One such complaint, from the National Fair Housing Alliance and New York’s Fair Housing Justice Center, asserts that Facebook continues to violate the Fair Housing Act by happily offering user data to discriminatory housing advertisers. These are entities that may not certain groups of people to even see their ads. Often this is based on any number of criteria, including race, religion, or even disability. According to the plaintiffs, simply searching disabled parking permits at one point could land you on this radar. All this is illegal, and Facebook’s continued cooperation with these entities, despite past warnings, is troubling.
Of course, Facebook’s revenue from advertising is enormous. In 2017 alone it was close to $40 billion. This explains, though does not excuse, illicit compliance from this or any other online business. As I said last time, companies who operate in this manner are sorely testing their users’ goodwill.
Some, at least, seem to acknowledge this. “It’s up to us to figure out how to be a good steward of the public’s trust,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s CEO who also happens to be on Facebook’s board.
Well, that public trust is fast eroding. Incident after incident is wearing away patience. Whether new regulations, or user representatives, or some other solutions are put in place, this irresponsible leaking of people’s data cannot continue.