industry tech

The Katabasis of Facebook – Will 2019 be Another Year of Internet Privacy Scandals?

Out with the old and in with the new. The new year is upon us. Internet privacy was a major story in the year that passed with numerous scandals relating to many of the “top fish in the sea”. When Facebook was launched on the 4th of February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, it was destined to reach all corners of the globe with billions of users, but what has haunted the company has become a cliché for tech companies – information, data sharing and privacy. As the new year comes to a close, the news about vague, borderline illegal practices just continue to appear. In December alone, a report by the New York Times has highlighted some of these questionable practices but Facebook is not alone. What can be remembered from Microsoft, Yahoo, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify … Facebook partners, these are some of the largest companies on the Web that have had access to highly confidential data, such as private messages from Internet users or publications from their friends. Katabasis is a Greek-derived term meaning a descent of some kind, most times referring to the underworld like when Orpheus went to the underworld to bring his wife, Eurydice, back to the world of the living. The question that remains for the year 2019: will Facebook and the other tech giants change the term katabasis to anabasis (movement upwards)?

Another report, another strike at the structural integrity of Facebook. 

It’s December. . . and a team from the New York Times has just highlighted more than a few questionable practices of Facebook, after getting hold of internal documents of several hundred pages. The social network has been accused of sharing personal data without the consent of users. The report also relies on interviews with some fifty former employees of the firm, as well as its own analysis of the information communicated between Facebook and its partners. Is this report a final signal that something radical needs to happen to recapture the trust in the company? Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social network is trying to reassure its 2.2 billion users of its respect of privacy. The Director of Facebook’s Privacy and Public Policy Team, Steve Satterfield, however, says in a written comment to CNN that partners with services integrating with their users’ Facebook accounts have not been able to use the information for their own purposes in full compliance with Facebook’s terms. As 2018 comes to an end, we know that data is worth more now than ever. Data is big business and if you can capture the tastes, needs and desires of your customers, you will rule like a king and that’s precisely why the access to data from Facebook’s 2.2 billion users worldwide has proven highly sought after, and companies are willing to pay huge sums of money to access the information.

A deadly sin of today’s market society is treating the customer like a fool, but why are so many of these tech giants continuing to engage in such a malpractice? Despite the protections announced, many companies have had privileged access to data that is supposed to be confidential. The New York Times survey identified more than 150 companies that would have benefited. The first agreements regarding data breaches began already in 2010 (although even that may seem too late), and this has continued to be reminded of relevance in 2017, 2018 and will do so in the future. These partnerships have benefited all parties concerned. Facebook has seen the number of users grow, increasing revenue from the ads being displayed while its partners were able to offer new services to make their products more attractive. Finally the users themselves could interact with their contacts through different sites and devices. Is this sharing of data leading to a monopoly-driven circle where these select few companies gain while the others.. are driven out?

… But what did these companies actually do with data shared by Facebook?

Among the various permissions that are problematic, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, used in Facebook, had full access to the contact list for each Facebook profile, while Netflix and Spotify could even read users’ private messages (!). It’s astonishing that this is not bigger than what is portrayed in the media. Amazon was able to get the names and contact information of users through their friends, while Yahoo was able to view the posts of users’ friends. This continued in the summer, despite the assurances of the social network to have ended this kind of practice, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Steve Satterfield, Privacy and Public Policy Officer, said the partnerships did not violate users’ privacy because the contracts of the various partners require them to comply with Facebook’s privacy policies. Some of these partners, including Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, reported using the data in an “appropriate” way, without further details. What about Facebook’s other services that have been capturing headlines in 2018?

Geolocation and location tracking..  Facebook continues to “spy” on you 

In 2011, Facebook had signed an agreement with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) that prohibited it from sharing user data without their explicit permission. In the wake of these recent revelations, a blogger on the Medium site published a detailed post, demonstrating that Facebook does not respect users’ preferences on location data and it uses the history of geolocation for targeted advertising, without the agreement of users. Even by disabling the location of the application on your smartphone, the firm uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth data, as well as the IP address to track your movements. This information often gives enough detail to the social network to target advertisements around the shops frequented. With such a breach of its own privacy policies, Facebook has detailed information about each person’s life, which it then passes on to many other businesses. Since the introduction of the new regulation on personal data in Europe (RGPD), Facebook offers to better regulate the information that we do not want to share. And then, of course, we have the major security breach that happened in September when up to 50 million accounts on Facebook were hacked, according to the company itself. The security of the online giant was questioned from every angle. 

This katabasis of Facebook throughout the year was steep, but it’s up to the company itself to reevaluate what it’s doing wrong and not treat its customers like fools. While some people can make New Year’s resolutions starting from the 1st of January from scratch, Facebook and the other tech companies do not have this honor – these scandals will be carried on to the next year where the company can choose to shape its own destiny. In June of 2018 it was reported that the number of teens using its platform are down and a number of other statistics showing its gradual stagnation. Will Facebook change its course from katabasis to anabasis and return to the world of the living from the underworld of privacy scandals? The Ancient Greeks did not have any myths about tech companies rising from the underworld, but Facebook needs to be careful as it walks on extremely thin ice. . .

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.

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