With the rapid expansion of social media and the duration of time it takes to pass any form of legislation, its really no surprise the law is having a difficult time keeping up with technology. In a recent lecture by Gwen Foutz, the SVP and Senior Partner, Managing Director at Methods+Mastery, on November 13th, 2019 she raised the point, “Facebook can basically do anything and not get in trouble. Just look what happened with the the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What happened to them? Essentially nothing, right?”. That may not be factually accurate, but it does raise moral, ethical, and legal question as too what have they done, what consequences have there been, and is there a limit to their power?
First, lets refresh the details of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal. In 2018 it was revealed that Facebook had released the information of millions of user data without their consent to Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm who used data mining and several other methods to develop strategic communications to influence peoples’ opinions. CA was able to accomplish this through surveys released on Facebook that allowed them to mine the data of participants and their Friends. Tens of millions of unauthorized data was collected and used to target susceptible users without their knowledge. And what was Facebook’s response? They described the event as an “issue” or a “mistake” and reminded officials that Facebook’s privacy agreement gives them the Right to users personal data. That seems a far stretch from an actual apology or admission of guilt.
But, even as early as 2009 Facebook was being scolded for changing their privacy agreements to say users could not delete their data once leaving the platform. And it got even worse in 2011 when it was realized that even though Facebook told users that third party applications could only reach limited personal data, when in reality it had access to nearly all user’s personal data. Then in 2013 Facebook found a bug that it was sharing users phone numbers and email addresses without consent. Even though they found and fixed the bug, the issue wasn’t made public until the scandal was leaked.
Since Facebook’s beginning it’s basically gone through a new scandal every other year and was reprimanded each time with fines and bad press… but, if their behavior hasn’t changed, are those penalties really forcing any change to Zuckerberg’s moral compass? I mean, this is a company that was fined 5 BILLION dollars for interference in a US election and now they want to start their own cryptocurrency? (That’s right, in 2019 Zuckerberg appeared in front of congress to defend their project Libra, a Bitcoin like currency with some variations on how the money is backed). And only less than 2 months ago in October of 2019 congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg directly if she was able lie and spread smear campaigns on Facebook to discredit her opponents and sway susceptible voters. Zuckerberg’s response was, “I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head…”, at which point the interview continues and Zuckerberg stumbles to provide unclear answers to basically simple questions.
This post isn’t meant as a way to paint an evil picture of Facebook, it’s to address the point that Gwen Foutz during her presentation to our class about the application “being able to get away with anything they want”. To her point, the platform has clearly done very little to change its ethical approach to business even after rigorous fines and bad press. But, then again, Facebook is still expanding its number of users each day, it’s still exploring other markets to profit from, and its stock value is still more than double its opening value and still rising. So, is Gwen right? Can Facebook do anything they want? Do you think at some point the government will implement regulations that will finally make Facebook adjust their platform? Or, do you think the power lies with its users and without a unify cry for change, change will never come?
TRT World News/Magazine. (2019. April 25). A recent History of Facebook Scandals. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/a-recent-history-of-facebook-scandals-26157
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, November 13). Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:08, November 22, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Facebook%E2%80%93Cambridge_Analytica_data_scandal&oldid=926050636
Feiner, Lauren. (2019, November 21). New Bill Would Make Facebook’s Cryptocurrency a Security Under the Law, Inviting Greater Regulation. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/21/new-bill-would-make-facebooks-cryptocurrency-a-security-under-the-law.html
Morse, Andrew. (2019, October 24). Here’s what you need to know about Facebook’s controversial Libra cryptocurrency https://www.cnet.com/news/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-facebooks-controversial-libra-cryptocurrency/
YouTube. NBC News. (2019, October 24). AOC Grills Zuckerberg on Facebook Allowing Ads with False Information. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuIhb-xbW9I