During his appearance before the United States Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committees, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did quite the job tiptoeing through a minefield of potentially threatening inquiries. Based on his answers, he either has no idea how the platform – which was founded controversially – works, or he blatantly lied to protect his interests in the firm.
Despite the obviously high-tech nature of Facebook, no experts were present to evaluate the claims of the technology mogul. When asked by congressional leaders if Facebook sells user information to advertisers, Zuckerberg clearly stated that this was not the case. However, prompts located deep within one of the platform’s advanced features tell a very different story. Users who opt to download their data archive for advertisements are greeted by a notice that clearly lists which advertisers have collected their information.
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The Inside Scoop on Facebook Data Sharing
At the center of the Zuckerberg controversy is the inappropriate use of market intelligence. Market research is an important resource that enterprises collect, evaluate and interpret to make sound business decisions. Without this kind of insight, companies would waste untold amounts of money by going forward with unprofitable initiatives, an expense that would eventually pass on to consumers.
However, a problem exists when enterprises gather information improperly, such as when Cambridge Analytica – a third party vendor acting on behalf of Facebook – launched an online quiz via the social media platform to gather market intelligence. Former Cambridge Analytica business director Brittany Kaiser has stated that the poll count likely exceeds the 87 million users reported as harmed by the recent data violation. After news of the inappropriate use of this information, Facebook officials issued an updated data policy and notified its affected users that a company called Global Science Research may have inappropriately obtained their personal information.
In other news, Facebook is again feeling the heat for inappropriate use of its facial recognition technology. An Illinois judge has held Facebook liable for a pending class action suit alleging that the platform applies the technology without user permission. Facebook users are most familiar with this innovation through the site’s “Tag Suggestions” feature. The group filed the suit in 2015, claiming that the feature is a violation of Illinois privacy legislation.
During the Senate hearings, Zuckerberg stated that, for security reasons, Facebook collects the data of netizens that do not use the social media platform. In response, the company published a blog post explaining that Facebook continues to collect information about users after they’ve logged out of the site through social media plugins such as share and like buttons, apps that use the Facebook login, Facebook analytics and sites and apps that run advertisements on Facebook. Through these devices, Facebook continues to receive users’ data, even when they’re not logged onto the site. When given the opportunity to explain this, Zuckerberg skated the issue with the Senate committee.
Ethics in the Digital Domain
Zuckerberg & Facebook opening up about the continual collection of user information has users and experts within the digital domain wondering just how far tech giants can go without crossing ethical boundaries.
Given that technology and social media are relatively young, there has yet to be put in place any solid boundaries regarding data acquisition from users within the digital realm. As of late, experts and scholars of personal information management have been utilizing the American Library Association (ALA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), which have developed a code of ethics that applies across any number of fields and industries. The organizations are two of the most respected entities among professionals practicing in the library sciences discipline. The groups designed the framework to improve self-awareness and operational efficiency while avoiding ethical faux pas.
The code is the ideal framework for the Zuckerberg scenario, as it could prevent unfair censorship – a persistent issue among Facebook groups. More pointedly, the ethics code serves as a guideline for ensuring transparency and the protection of individual freedoms such as privacy.
But Wait, There’s More…
A software engineer has revealed that a completely different exploit – one that’s been used by cyberattackers to acquire information about nearly all 2 billion Facebook users – remains fully intact. In fact, reveals programmer Pawan Deshpande, all social media platforms have co-opted the code in some form since its inception. What’s more, taking advantage of the vulnerability is remarkably easy, and the latest iteration of the code can probe thousands of users simultaneously. The technology, used by advertisers to deliver highly targeted messages, makes it easy to identify users.
This is the exact type of cyber exploit used by Russian hackers to send targeted political messages to voters during the last United States election. If this trend continues, Facebook and all other social media firms will, as with several industries before it, lose the privilege of self-directed governance, especially if corporate apologies don’t turn into expedited corrections.
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