Facebook: Mistakes, Missteps and Challenges

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Facebook, like any company its size, makes mistakes. The challenge it currently faces is from skeptics who feel that Zuckerberg apologizes for such mistakes too little, too late and with recycled lines which lack meaningful follow-through. “This was a big mistake,” and “I know we can do better” are not going to cut it going forward, especially in light of new regulatory scrutiny.

Legislators and regulators are going to be looking for follow through on commitments for change.

To date, a lack of follow through on complying with FTC asks on privacy could perhaps be singled out as Facebook’s single most important misstep. The media and regulators are demanding more transparency, as well as metrics for measuring progress. It’s all well and good for Zuckerberg to tout privacy as the future, but now it must put its money where its mouth is.

Examples of incidents which have caused Facebook trouble in the past include:

 Information Beacon (2007)

The tracking program Beacon took information on some 50 million Facebook users’ purchases and activities on other websites and posted them to the news feed without always explicitly asking approval. This led to a petition, signed by tens of thousands of Facebook members, asking for this feature to be dropped. A month later, Facebook created an ‘opt-out’ from the service and Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for how Beacon was released and the situation handled.

 Login with Facebook (2008)

When Facebook rolled out its OpenID tool in 2008 it fundamentally changed the digital world. With it, came the “like” button on outside websites, and Facebook’s ability to track users’ (and even non-users’) browsing history. A year later, Facebook also changed its default privacy settings to make user profiles public by default, something which got increasing pushback until the default was eventually changed for profiles to be visible only to users’ friends. Arguably, the five years it took to make this change was too long, and sowed the seeds of mistrust among many in the media and public.

 FTC Settlement (2011/2012)

In 2009 eight groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission about various Facebook data practices. In 2011, the FTC publically rebuked the company, saying it had “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.’

The FTC specifically took issue with the amount of Facebook content that third-party apps would be able to access, Facebook’s denials that it shared personal information with advertisers (when it actually did), the false status of “verified apps” as secure, users’ friends lists being available publicly without sufficient opt-in or information to users, and access to photos and videos from deleted accounts.

Facebook settled with the FTC in 2012, agreeing to kickstart a privacy program where it would ask users permission before sharing their information. It also agreed to third party privacy audits for the next 20 years. Zuckerberg also publicly apologized and committed to “making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.’

6 Million Phone Numbers Revealed (June 2013)

Facebook was compelled to tell 6 million users that their contact information, including phone numbers and emails, had been inadvertently exposed in a breach. The breach also affected non Facebook users, because some of their contact information had been uploaded by friends (by apps which pulled contact information into Facebook).

This caused significant anger amongst the public, though Facebook attempted to mitigate the situation by pointing out that anyone who saw the information was most likely already a contact who possessed the information already. The company also said it had taken steps to prevent future breaches, but added that bugs can happen.

Inflated Video Views (2016)

In 2016 Facebook said it had miscalculating performance metrics in a way that exaggerated the amount of time videos on the site were viewed, something which meant little to users, but upset advertisers who felt they may have overpaid for various video ads. Facebook apologized for the mistake.

Fake Profiles and Accounts (2017)

After the incredibly divisive 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook faced accusations that operatives had been exploiting users using fake profiles and accounts. Facebook cracked down hard, deleting tens of thousands of these fake accounts before the German and French elections, as well as the “likes” to various news outlets. The FBI was even pulled in to investigate.

Fake News (2017)

After President Trump’s election in November 2016, controversy swirled about Facebook’s role as an information publisher, with the term “fake news” making its infamous debut. Over 100 pro-Trump accounts were uncovered to come from a single town in Macedonia, which was cashing in on advertising traffic, while others linked dubious news reports to Russian Pro-Trump operatives.

Facebook initially deflected, with Zuckerberg calling claims that Fake News influenced the election “crazy”, but he later walked that back. Facebook admitted that $100,000 worth of ads had been sold to fake accounts run by Russian operatives, with those ads being served to 126 million people. Talk burgeoned about legislation which would force Facebook to disclose its advertisers, but Facebook headed that off by releasing a tool allowing users to see who was behind various ads they were seeing.

The threat may not have completely dissipated, however, after 13 Russian operatives were indicted for breaking U.S laws pertaining to election meddling, with Facebook’s name appearing 35 times in the indictments. Zuckerberg had originally said that no Russian effort of any significance had taken place, something in hindsight which can be seen as patently false.

The Cambridge Analytica Breach

The latest and most high-profile privacy challenge Facebook has had to face in recent years, pertaining to the misuse of user’s data. Cambridge Analytica, formerly run by Steve Bannon and tied to Republican donor Robert Mercer developed ‘psychographic’ profiles based on data collected from some 50 million Facebook members with an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife.’

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica and launched a forensic audit into the issue. Facebook at first denied that this was even a breach at all, saying that all involved had given their consent, and that the only issue was the illegal handing over of said data to third parties, and the fact that the firm lied to Facebook about what data had been destroyed.

Privacy activists, however, have not accepted this explanation, and claim that the fact swarths of data were accessed with minimal vetting remains a big problem. It also raised the issue with the FTC again, which is taking a fresh look at whether the episode violates its 2012 agreement with Facebook.

Threatening to Sue the Guardian Newspaper

When Facebook threatened to sue The Guardian over the story Carole Cadwalladr wrote, which later proved mostly accurate, it lost major transparency and trust points.

Cite this paper

Facebook: Mistakes, Missteps and Challenges. (2021, Feb 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/facebook-mistakes-missteps-and-challenges/

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