What the first day of the Zuckerberg hearings made clear is that many American lawmakers are illiterate when it comes to 21st century technology. As a result, the issue that was supposed to be the focus of the hearing -- "social media privacy and the use and abuse of data," as Sen. Chuck Grassley put it -- was but one among many. And at the moment when the country needed a smart conversation about privacy, what it got was meandering questions and misfires.
Facebook now says the data firm Cambridge Analytica gained unauthorized access to up to 87 million users' data, mainly in the United States. This figure is far higher than the 50 million users that were previously reported. Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer shared this figure at the end of a lengthy--and somewhat unrelated--blog post Wednesday that laid out a slew of changes Facebook is making to restrict access to user data.
The company’s core business that powers around $4 billion in monthly revenue is monetizing everything you do on Facebook to serve its advertisers. However, users may not know that the powerful social network already has an opinion about your political leanings -- and it’s fairly easy to find out what Mark Zuckerberg’s company thinks of your political preferences.
“This past week, a New Zealand man was looking through the data Facebook had collected from him in an archive he had pulled down from the social networking site. While scanning the information Facebook had stored about his contacts, Dylan McKay discovered something distressing: Facebook also had about two years’ worth of phone call metadata from his Android phone, including names, phone numbers, and the length of each call made or received,” the news outlet reported.
Facebook stores almost every single interaction you've had with the social network since you joined, including every time you've logged in, ads you've clicked, events you've been invited to, a list of the people you follow, your friends, your hometown, every time you've sent or received a message, every single status update and more.
The drumbeat to regulate Big Tech began pounding long before the Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked Facebook--six long years ago, the Obama administration pushed a “Privacy Bill of Rights” that, like most other legislative attempts to safeguard your data online, went nowhere. But this time, as they say, feels different. Thanks to repeated lapses from not just Facebook but all corners of Silicon Valley, some sort of regulation seems not only plausible but imminent.
In January, Facebook introduced a major change to its newsfeed algorithm. In a post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that the change aimed to give greater emphasis to posts from “friends, family and groups” and less to “businesses, brands and media.” The change was followed by a promise to promote what Facebook calls “broadly trusted” news sources on the platform.
For years, tech giants and their CEOs could count on glowing praise and friendly media coverage that hyped up just how much their products would change the world. Those changes are now the subject of growing skepticism from politicians, academics and that same media. Election meddling, concerns about privacy and questions about technology's role in our daily lives have muddied the waters for the Silicon Valley giants, which now face tough questions and scrutiny like they've never seen before.
Facebook has always nudged truant users back to its platform though emails and notifications. But recently, those prods have evolved beyond comments related to activity on your own profile. Now Facebook will nag you when an acquaintance comments on someone else’s photo, or when a distant family member updates their status.
To make any real progress in advancing data privacy this year, we have to start doing something about Google and Facebook. Not doing so would be like trying to lose weight without changing your diet. Simply ineffective. The impact these two companies have on our privacy cannot be understated. You may know that hidden trackers lurk on most websites you visit, soaking up your personal information.