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Facebook is complicit, not a victim, in the abuse and misuse of personal data

Facebook is complicit, not a victim, in the abuse and misuse of personal data
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I was always curious why Facebook, did not have a “dislike” button to complement its “like” button. Now we know.

The Cambridge Analytica outrage is now a major scandal — both financially and morally — for the multi-billion-dollar business.

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Surprisingly, and disappointingly for some, the scandal is not about politics or elections. Instead it’s the massive internal breach of data; the attempted cover-up; the failure in duty of care by the tech giant and a cratering of trust. This despite Facebook spin and the ready co-operation of the anti-Trump sections of the media.

 

Make no mistake, this is a Facebook data breach that was sanctioned “in-house.” The profit was enormous. The surging Cambridge Analytica humiliation is about personal data and its misuse for financial gain. No matter how Team Zuckerberg attempts to duck this perfidy. No matter how the hooded bots attempt to abrogate blame. No matter how deftly they dodge criticism or responsibility in Menlo Park, the fact remains — this is a data breach, and Facebook is complicit.

“We have rules” sputtered a spokesperson. Facebook also denied there was any kind of breach, parsing words on Twitter. “No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked,” tweeted one Facebook executive. At best the deflection is a startlingly feeble, unsophisticated attempt to obfuscate. At worst, it is simply untrue. The Guardian, the newspaper that broke the story referred to the data misuse as a “breach,”

Let’s assume for a moment that Facebook is the victim. Close your eyes and really concentrate. Facebook says it learned of Cambridge Analytica’s private database in 2015. One must then assume they moved immediately to protect users and disclose the breach? Well, no actually, they didn’t. Facebook admitted the breach only after the British media revealed that more than 50 million Facebook users had been compromised — in March 2018.

Over the last decade how many developers have simply worked around Facebook’s rules — which permitted caching data — and made their own databases? Where is that information now? Is the private user data as powerful as Cambridge Analytica claims? If so what has it been used for? Is there another, larger Cambridge Analytica-style balloon about to drop?

Given that this debacle has cost Facebook $60 billion (and betrayed the trust of tens of millions), what is Facebook doing to make amends? As it turns out, very little. It seems the big kahunas are cowering behind the frappuccino machine. As the bombshell hit, Facebook employees were summoned, steaming mochas in hand, to an “all hands” meeting. Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergMerkel named Harvard commencement speaker The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg denies selling 'anyone's data' | UK Parliament releases more Facebook docs | Canada reportedly arrests Huawei CFO | Fallout from Marriott hack | Cuba rolls out internet service for mobile users MORE the CEO and COO Sheryl Sandberg, both stated champions of transparency, were AWOL. As a consolation prize they sent the company’s second-string lawyer. To add insult to injury he was in a suit and tie. 

To date, the government has proved inept at keeping pace with the media ecosystem. This is not politically driven, it is technological and cultural. Television broadcasters, for instance have Federal Communications Commission rules that require public disclosure of campaign ad buys. Facebook, Twitter et al do not. Perhaps a simple solution is to require campaigns to disclose their online advertising buys? Seems modest enough.

Fundamentally the issue is about privacy, trust and corporate responsibility — not politics. Since 2016, I would argue, Facebook has progressively contributed to the dislocation and decay of America’s political system. Sure, overpaid political consultants, Putin’s henchmen and snake oil salesmen have all embraced Facebook’s tools. They are selling us goods, services and Senators, via Zuckerberg’s platform — created and unleashed with few safeguards. Call it campaign meddling, psychological warfare or simply business as usual. Just remember, if your data is misused and privacy is compromised, it’s a data breach, brought to you by your friends at Facebook. Can we “unlike” yet?

Gregory Keeley is a retired lieutenant commander with service in both the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. He is a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pacific. LCDR Keeley also served as senior advisor to a vice chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, Rep. Jim Saxton (R-Pa.), and to a chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.).