We might be setting a blog record as Facebook makes our front page for the fourth week in a row. Lest you think I’m resting on my laurels and taking easy swings at low hanging fruit (mixed metaphors for the win!), Facebook’s fall from grace might be the biggest tech story of the decade, and this is happening alongside Intel’s monstrous security flaw, the Equifax breach (remember that one?), and the dismantling of Net Neutrality. And those are just the ones I can recall off the top of my head! I’d love to be writing about other things, but due to its sheer size and global reach, this evolving disaster is something from which we cannot (and must not) look away. The Cambridge Analytica debacle is the gift that keeps on giving, but unfortunately it’s the mother of all white elephants as far as Zuckerberg et al. are concerned, and I’m sure a large helping of “do not want” is being served around the table at Chez Facebook.
It’s like watching a slow-motion derailment
Mark Zuckerberg may be one of the richest technocrats on Earth at the moment, but that didn’t stop Congress from skewering him in a multi-hour, publicly televised congressional hearing. On the whole, I’d say he’s lucky some of the Senators are in their 60’s and 70’s, and clearly did not have a solid grasp of Facebook’s technology, allowing him to sidestep some of the more naive or ill-informed questions. But several, more savvy Senators put him square into a glaring spotlight that he could not dodge: What is Facebook doing to combat hate speech? Is Facebook a Monopoly? Are Cambridge Analytica and Russian “troll farm” Internet Research Agency somehow connected? Was Facebook selectively biased towards left-leaning content? Perhaps most telling was Sen. Durbin’s (D-Ill.) line of questioning: “Would (Zuckerberg) share the name of the hotel he stayed in last night?” to which the CEO responded, “No, I would not choose to do that publicly here.” Audible laughter from the room rang that point home.
Given the attention focused on digital privacy, two US Senators have hitched a new bill to the hype train named the CONSENT (Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions) Act which calls for much more strict and well defined consent from consumers, putting the onus on providers to secure a user’s affirmative consent, ie. “opt in” as opposed to the current policy trend of requiring users to “opt out.”
And in case you need any more confirmation that Facebook might not have your best interests at heart, California’s own Senator Kamala Harris zeroed in on what I believe is a key takeaway from this current circus. When asked by Sen. Harris, point-blank, about the decision made at Facebook in 2015 to not notify users that their data had been inappropriately shared with Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg admitted, “in retrospect it was a mistake.” This was an important question, as Facebook’s failure to notify users of this breach is probably a direct violation of a deal the internet company reached with the SEC in 2011 that barred the company from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information.
In case you are curious as to whether your information was shared with Cambridge Analytica in the breach mentioned above, you can click this Facebook link for an immediate look at what, if any, of your personal information was shared.