It seems we can’t go a week without another scandal from Facebook. The company is still facing backlash and a tarnished reputation over the Cambridge Analytica data breach. Unfortunately, for them, this latest scandal is another setback in their attempt to rebuild user trust.
Facebook revealed that a bug affected the platforms “audience selector” tool, which allows users to decide whether they share their posts with friends or a wider audience. The tool is meant to remain on the selected option so that users don’t have to select who they want to share with every time. The bug however automatically changed users share settings to public.
The company has said the bug was active from May 18th-May 27th and has estimated that 14 million users were affected by it. The company was able to stop the error on May 22nd but was unable to revert posts to their previous settings until five days later.
Chief privacy officer, Erin Egan released a statement saying, “We have fixed this issue and starting today we are letting everyone affected know and asking them to review any posts they made during that time. We’d like to apologize for this mistake.”
Facebook has already reverted people’s audience settings to the user’s prior preferences. Users that were affected will be notified with an explanation, an apology, and a review of posts affected by the bug. They’ve made it clear that previous posts were not affected; just those that were posted while the bug was active.
What It Means
Some are viewing the company’s quick admission of the error as a step in the right direction in their efforts to be more transparent. The company was harshly criticized for not notifying users whose data was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica for over two years.
In some ways though, this scandal is even more damning than the Cambridge Analytica one. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Senate in April he emphasized multiple times that users have control over their own data. He highlighted the audience-sharing tool as an example of this. This bug once again shows users that the “control” they have is limited, and dare we say even a farce. Facebook can take away this control, either on purpose or by accident, in just a moment.
What Also Happened
This isn’t the only scandal surrounding Facebook recently either. It’s also come out in recent days that the company gave access to over 60 device makers, such as Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Blackberry. These companies received access to Facebook users’ data, including information on friends, and even friends of friends, without their consent. This revelation shows that the Cambridge Analytica data scandal wasn’t an outlier, and in all likelihood, it will come out that even more companies had access like this.
Even more startling was the revelation that Facebook has been broad sharing data with multiple Chinese tech companies such as Oppo, Lenovo, TCL, and Huawei. Huawei, in particular, is drawing criticism, as the US government has made claims that the Chinese phone developer could be used for spying and pose other cybersecurity risks. Huawei had been working towards a deal to sell their phones in America through local service providers, but that has since fallen through due to these concerns.
People are extra concerned about Huawei having access compared to other device makers, like Samsung and Blackberry, due to the companies alleged close tied with the Chinese government. The company is currently under investigation by the US Justice Department for potentially violating US sanctions in regards to Iran.
What It All Means
What all of these scandals and revelations should show users is that we were naïve to trust any tech company with our data. Whether it’s a policy loophole, granted access, or a bug, Facebook has shown us time and time again that they are unable to protect our privacy like they should. Because we continue to accept their weak, stock apologies, we allow them to get away with it again.
Facebook has been making attempts to rebuild user trust. Their quick admission over the audience-setting bug shows that. They’ve also made moves to fight against foreign interference with elections and fake news by limiting foreign ad spending and removing their ill-conceived trending news section.
However, as the scandals continue to roll in we can’t help but feel it’s too little too late. How many mistakes will we forgive? How many apologies will we accept? At what point do we realize the bargain we struck- our privacy, data, and personal information in exchange for a platform that diminishes our mental health and manipulates us- was made with the devil?