Deleting your Facebook account isn’t a bad New Year resolution – the company has proven yet again it violated public trust
Prepare yourself for an overwhelming sense of deja vu: another Facebook privacy “scandal” is upon us.
A New York Times investigation has found that Facebook gave Netflix, Spotify and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) the ability to read, write and delete users’ private messages. The Times investigation, based on hundreds of pages of internal Facebook documents, also found that Facebook gave 150 partners more access to user data than previously disclosed. Microsoft, Sony and Amazon, for example, could obtain the contact information of their users’ friends.
Netflix, Spotify and RBC have all denied doing anything nefarious with your private messages. Netflix tweeted that it never asked for the ability to look at them; Spotify says it had no idea it had that sort of access; RBC disputes it even had the ability to see users’ messages. Whether they accessed your information or not, however, is not the point. The point is that Facebook should never have given them this ability without getting your explicit permission to do so.
In a tone-deaf response to the Times investigation, the tech giant explained: “None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission, nor did they violate our 2012 settlement with the FTC.” Perhaps not, but they did violate public trust.
The Times’ new report caps off a very bad year for Facebook when it comes to public trust. Let’s just recap a few of the bigger stories, shall we?
March: The Observer reveals that Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of millions of Facebook users without their consent for political purposes. It is also revealed that Facebook had been keeping records of Android users’ phone calls and texts.
April: It was revealed that Facebook was in secret talks with hospitals to get them to share patients’ private medical data.
September: Hackers gained access to around 30m Facebook accounts.
November: Facebook acknowledges it didn’t do enough to stop its platform being as a tool to incite genocidal violence in Myanmar. A New York Times report reveals the company hired a PR firm to try and discredit critics by claiming they were agents of George Soros.
December: Facebook admitted it exposed private photos from 68 million users to apps that weren’t authorized to view your photos. (You can check if you were affected via this Facebook link.)
If you’re still on Facebook after everything has happened this year, you need to ask yourself why. Is the value you get from the platform really worth giving up all your data for? More broadly, are you comfortable being part of the reason that Facebook is becoming so dangerously powerful? Are you comfortable being on a platform that has, among other things, helped incite genocide in Myanmar?
Facebook has made it very clear that it thinks it can get away with anything because its users are idiots
In March, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook put out print ads stating: “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” I think they’ve proved by now that they don’t deserve it. Time and time again Facebook has made it abundantly clear that it is a morally bankrupt company that is never going to change unless it is forced to. What’s more, Facebook has made it very clear that it thinks it can get away with anything because its users are idiots. Zuckerberg famously called the first Facebook users “dumb fucks” for handing their personal information over to him; his disdain for the people whose data he deals with doesn’t appear to have lessened over time.
To be clear, I’m not urging everyone to delete Facebook. For some people Facebook really is a valuable tool. Further, unless all of its 2 billion users delete it en masse, Facebook’s abuse of power isn’t a problem that we can solve as individuals. Technology giants must be regulated.
However, having said that, if Facebook doesn’t provide you with an invaluable service, I’d urge you to extricate yourself from the company as much as possible. If you’re looking for a New Year resolution, deleting Facebook isn’t a bad one. After all, if we all continue using Facebook after it betrays our trust time and time again then maybe Zuck is right. We are dumb fucks.