Next to Google, Facebook is perhaps the biggest tech company holds most of the population personal data. The amount of information, be it text or photos, that people upload, provide it data points that can be used to build very accurate profiles. Unlike Google, however, Facebook hasn’t been grilled over its privacy practices, or lack of it, until recently. Now all its old practices, messages, and secret policies are being dragged into the spotlight, revealing that Facebook’s culture of disregarding users’ privacy comes from its top executives.
It’s easy enough to see “Facebook” as a single entity that has no care for protecting its own users’ digital welfare. No company is like that, of course, especially with giant corporations like Facebook. Some of the complaints, concerns, and doubts about the company’s practices come from its own ranks.
Unfortunately, those fall on deaf ears at the top. Not that they never reach it but because those at the top often stop it from going any further. Often it’s to protect the company from bad PR and litigation – Other times it is because it conflicts with the executives’ goals of growing Facebook’s user base and advertising partners. Often that means turning on a blind eye to questions and concerns about practices or shady apps exploiting Facebook’s own APIs and data.
Skeletons in the Closet
New evidence suggests that the problem might even come from the very top. Insiders report that Facebook may have come across somewhat incriminating emails that prove CEO Mark Zuckerberg may have at least been aware of potentially problematic privacy practices and situations inside the company.
Now both Facebook and the FTC are scrambling to figure out whether this will have legal bearing in the two’s struggle to reach a settlement over the social networking giant’s privacy practices.
The emails in question reveal Zuckerberg inquiring about apps that are able to gather users’ data. Employees pointed out to the chief executive that it was technically possible but that it was also a complicated topic. The app was eventually suspended but Facebook took even longer to plug up the holes in its platform. Executives were too busy trying to expand to bother which privacy practices.
Sin of Omission
In 2012, Facebook entered an accord with the FTC to protect users’ privacy. The email from Zuckerberg took place after the decree but before it took effect, which raises questions if it can have any legal bearing. It does, however, prove that, even after that consent agreement, Facebook’s executives had better things to do. It would only be years later after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that the CEO would admit that the company was slow in adopting best privacy practices.
It isn’t an isolated case, however, and there have been anecdotes and reports claiming how executives have ignored their own employee’s questions or warned those raising red flags not to stir the hornets’ nest. In some cases, Facebook would even have official and public tools that would allow advertisers to have access to things like location even after they have opted out of such tracking.
Once More from the Top
Under intense scrutiny, criticism, and lawsuits, Facebook has started making announcements and claims about how privacy is a core tenet in Facebook. That’s a relatively new development and it could be sometime before it can undo the actions of the past few years.
The ones that we know about, at least. And that change should probably start with the higher ups but the chances of that happening are close to none. Especially not for Mr. Zuckerberg.