Buzzfeed published a leaked memo from one of Facebook's top executives, titled "The Ugly," that describes a disturbing philosophy that both reflects an understanding of the power of private data in transforming lives and a reckless intentional disregard for potential harm. The memo ought to be read in full but the most shocking sentences are:
Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good...That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends...
Once the memo leaked, the author claimed that it was a "provocation." His boss claimed that he disagreed with this memo.
Facebook has suspended two more organizations from getting access to user data. For example, a Canadian company AggregateIQ that is thought to be an arm of SCL, which is involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Also, Cubeyou, a California company, is alleged to have resold data collected by a University of Cambridge academic center.
These cases involve shady practices in which users are coaxed or tricked into providing personal data through "gamification" (e.g. quizzes) and consent language hidden inside terms and conditions that everyone knows few people read. In each case, Facebook accused academic researchers of profiting from data collected under the pretense of academic research. The academics countered that they disclosed to Facebook users in terms and conditions that the data are collected for both research and commercial usage.
So, everyone believes s/he is acting by the rules. Why is anyone apologizing?
Facebook supporters say that the social-media giant needs revenues from selling user data to compensate for the core product being free.
Strangely, the current controversy has nothing to do with Facebook selling user data for dollars. All three suspended accounts supposedly "stole" data from Facebook by posing as academics so they took the data or free. In fact, Facebook drew attention to these cases by announcing the suspensions.
The real story, which hasn't yet been told, concerns the commercial deals in which Facebook earns revenues from selling user data to third parties.
As I indicated in my 7 Principles post, there is no need to hide data collection if the collected data benefit users; and businesses can derive value by analyzing user data without selling them to third-parties.
Another report confirms what I said here before: that privacy is the civil rights issue of our day. We are quickly heading to the world in which privacy is stripped by default, and purchased by the privileged.
TechCrunch tells us that Facebook CEO deleted messages from user inboxes but Facebook users are not allowed to delete any messages they have ever sent.
Congress may have joined the circus for publicity but it is far from innocent. Congress has passed various laws that stifle our right to privacy. Most recently, when President Trump passed the omnibus spending bill, Congress snuck in the CLOUD Act, which
is a surveillance bill that allows the US and foreign governments to obtain your online data directly from service providers like Facebook, Google, Slack, etc., without a warrant. The EFF has called it “a new backdoor around the Fourth Amendment.”
Previously, Congress gave Internet (pipe) providers free rein to collect and sell user data.
Is Congress on the people's side or not?