Can Facebook be trusted now that its founder has testified?

Can Facebook be trusted now that its founder has testified?

Christopher Wylie — the whistleblower and former employee of Cambridge Analytica who broke news about the controversial data firm harvesting data from millions of Facebook users during the 2016 election — was not impressed with Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress this week.

The 27-year-old data scientist said lawmakers asked the Facebook founder “softball questions” and displayed a lack of familiarity with the specifics regarding social media companies and user data, speaking with CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour in a Wednesday interview.

Zuckerberg seemed unruffled throughout the questioning and managed to answer all questions without breaking a sweat, though slight backtracking ensued. Shares of Facebook were up by 4.5% on Tuesday after the testimony, the highest it has been since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out weeks ago.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., took Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to task during a House committee hearing Wednesday on privacy concerns that have emerged involving the social media giant.

Can Facebook be trusted now that its founder has testified?

Welch suggested Congress must take action to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

“You acknowledged candidly that Facebook made a mistake,” Welch said to Zuckerberg during the House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting. “You promised action. We’re at the point where the action will speak much louder than the words.”

Welch went on:

“Privacy cannot be based just on company policies, whether it’s Facebook or any other company,” he said. “There has to be a willingness on the part of this Congress to step up and provide policy protection to the privacy rights of every American consumer.”

The hearing was Zuckerberg’s second appearance before lawmakers in as many days. He took questions on privacy practices, foreign interference in U.S. elections and whether Facebook harbors political bias against conservatives.

The CEO did not directly endorse any new regulations on social media platforms like Facebook, nor did he outright agree to support the “BROWSER Act,” which would provide more controls to users over their digital privacy.

Zuckerberg was repeatedly interrogated by Republican lawmakers about Diamond and Silk, two YouTube personalities who regularly appear on Fox News in support of the president and reportedly had their content flagged on Facebook as “unsafe to the community.” As several outlets noted, the billionaire business mogul was asked more about the pair of vloggers than his company’s role in international crises, including the Myanmar genocide.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Wylie continued. “It’s the role of our legislators, not just the United States but around the world, to actually ask tough questions. I think we all need to start actually prompting representatives to ask tougher questions.”

In fact, when reviewing the testimony, we observe that Zuckerberg only seemed under pressure when questioned by California Sen. Kamala Harris who insistently asked about why Facebook only came out with a statement about Cambridge Analytica after media outlets revealed the massive data breach this year when the company had known about this since 2015.

“Are you aware of anyone in the leadership at Facebook who was in a conversation where a decision was made not to inform your users?” Harris inquired. “Or do you believe no such conversation ever took place?”

“I am not sure whether there was a conversation about that,” Zuckerberg replied to the senator.

Each of the senators got five minutes to question the founder, and they covered a wide variety of questions including, terms of service of Facebook, fake news, the suspicion surrounding privacy and whether Facebook is listening in on conversations, censorship and much more.

However, an important question that arises is did the senators have a comprehensive idea of how Facebook works? According to the various media sources, the Congressional panel wasted time by asking questions whose answers could be potentially found on Google.

Facebook is not a monopoly, as per Zuckerberg
Senator Lindsey Graham asked Zuckerberg as to who Facebook’s biggest competitor is, he stated that Facebook has “a lot of competitors.” In a follow up of sorts to the question, Senator Graham then asked Zuckerberg if he thinks the company has a monopoly, to which Zuckerberg replied, “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.”

Regardless of Zuckerberg’s uncertain reply, Facebook does seem to be functioning like a monopoly. Business expansion, on one hand, Facebook has been decimating its rivals by purchasing them.

As Facebook closed deals with Instagram and WhatsApp, the social media giant penetrated our digital lives perhaps even without us knowing about it. Due to Facebook’s immense popularity, millions of users share their personal data on Facebook. Did the Cambridge Analytica scandal seem inevitable? Or is Zuckerberg genuinely looking to clean up Facebook and save face from the privacy mess it has found itself in?

Facebook has a history of releasing user data

Another factor that is important to note is that this is not the social media giants first instance of a wide scale data breach. In 2010, Facebook introduced a new feature called “Instant Personalization.” This feature allegedly shared user data with non-Facebook sites (third party sites) and was by default set at “Allow.” Users had the option of unchecking the “Allow” function in their settings. Similarly, in 2011, a dating site – Lovely Faces – gained access to roughly 2,50,000 publicly accessible pages. The dating site then scraped data from these pages and put the information up on the site.

What did Facebook do in this instance? Barry Schnitt, director of policy communications at Facebook, was quoted by the Wired: “We have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive legal action against organizations that violate these terms. We’re investigating this site and will take appropriate action.”

Again in 2010, information of over 100 million Facebook users was compromised when a security researcher released a file containing users’ names, profile addresses and unique identification numbers. Even though the information in the file can be openly accessed online, the consolidated list made it easier for anyone to look up users’ e-mail addresses, location or any other data. Once again Facebook responded by issuing a statement stating the list was not a threat to those who had no qualms sharing their information publicly.

Facebook appears to overhaul its privacy settings and promise privacy protection. During his testimony, Zuckerberg never denied responsibility for the data breach and even highlighted the steps the company was planning to take and had already taken to address the issue. However, this seems to be a pattern for the social media giant. Although the founder escaped the Congressional testimony unscathed giving a breather to the investors, there is still a long road to ensuring users will be able to trust the company again.

In August 2017 it was reported, the European Union’s powerful antitrust chief fined the social network 110 million euros, or about $122 million, for giving misleading statements during the company’s $19 billion acquisition of the internet messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.

The fine — one of the largest regulatory penalties against Facebook — comes days after Dutch and French privacy watchdogs ruled that the company had broken strict data protection rules. Other European countries, notably Germany, are clamping down on social media companies, including issuing potentially hefty penalties for failing to sufficiently police hate speech and misinformation.

The European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said that Facebook had told the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, that the social network would not combine the company’s data with that of WhatsApp, which has more than one billion users.

Yet last August, Facebook announced that it would begin sharing WhatsApp data with the rest of the company. That could allow it to gain an unfair advantage over rivals, by giving it access to greater amounts of data to help support its online advertising business.

Kashmir Hill, over at Fusion, discovered Facebook had been using location to suggest friends. The social network even admitted to doing so, claiming to combine that data with other factors, such as work and education information or mutual friends, to offer up people a user might want to connect with. Not long after, however, Facebook denied it was using location data, only to backtrack for a second time, admitting it had carried out a test on an unspecified number of users for four weeks at the end of 2015.

In 2014, Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions For Science.

Facebook is the best human research lab ever. There’s no need to get experiment participants to sign pesky consent forms as they’ve already agreed to the site’s data use policy.

A team of Facebook data scientists are constantly coming up with new ways to study human behavior through the social network. When the team releases papers about what it’s learned from us, we often learn surprising things about Facebook instead — such as the fact that it can keep track of the status updates we never actually post.

Facebook has played around with manipulating people before — getting 60,000 to rock the vote in 2010 that theoretically wouldn’t have otherwise — but a recent study shows Facebook playing a whole new level of mind gamery with its guinea pigs users. As first noted by The New Scientist and Animal New York, Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the News Feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods.

If there was a week in January 2012 where you were only seeing photos of dead dogs or incredibly cute babies, you may have been part of the study. Now that the experiment is public, people’s mood about the study itself would best be described as “disturbed.”

The experiment ran for a week — January 11–18, 2012 — during which the hundreds of thousands of Facebook users unknowingly participating may have felt either happier or more depressed than usual, as they saw either more of their friends posting ’15 Photos That Restore Our Faith In Humanity’ articles or despondent status updates about losing jobs, getting screwed over by X airline, and already failing to live up to New Year’s resolutions. “*Probably* nobody was driven to suicide,” tweeted one professor linking to the study, adding a “#jokingnotjoking” hashtag.

Mary Greeley News


Can Facebook be trusted now that its founder has testified?