The coincidence is unfortunate. The day after the opening in New York (United States) of a pop-up store supposed to present Facebook’s efforts to respect the privacy of its two billion users, the social network had to recognize a new lack of rigor in the matter. The photos of 6.8 million users may have been viewed without permission by several hundred developers working for Facebook partner companies.
“We fixed the problem, “said a Facebook tech executive in a blog post that was published just a day after. When a user logs into a third-party application under their Facebook identity, they can agree to share photos that they post on their news feed with that application. From September 13 to 25, 2018, partners could access photos uploaded to Facebook but not published.
This September 25, when the bug was corrected, shows that a scandal can hide another at the giant of social networks. That day, Facebook engineers had already discovered that hackers had managed to gain access to the personal data of 50 million users. The toll has since been revised to 30 million potential victims.
Pressure From Parliamentarians
These revelations come as the Californian company is under pressure from parliamentarians in the United States and Europe following the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed last March. This British-American political marketing firm has managed to siphon data from 87 million Facebook users. Then the company used them in 2016 to finely personalize the election advertisements of the one who will become President of the United States, Donald Trump.
The security concerns and the context of mistrust surrounding Facebook led to the publication of embarrassing documents for the group leaders. Exchanges of emails seized by the British Parliament thus show that the social network staff thought well in 2012 of making advertisers pay for access to user data. Before giving up: “We don’t sell data, that’s not how advertising works,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the company, adopting a firm but stern tone.
But the damage was done. Global turnover growth slowed. The social network declined for the first time in Europe, with a loss of 4 million daily users in the second and third quarters of 2018.
Somehow, Facebook is trying to look elsewhere. On its Instagram application, curiously, seems little associated with the setbacks of the parent company by Internet users. And on the development of its video offer. According to the specialist website Recode, Facebook would consider offering paid subscriptions to HBO or Showtime channels through its Watch application.
This was one of the first incidents that damaged the company’s legacy. There had been a lot of doubts about Facebook as a brand and what it was capable of and how it mostly preyed on user data, but this incident showed the extent of the problem.
In a bid to change the company’s image, Facebook is now looking to change its name. It’s following a similar path to Google, which rebranded itself to Alphabet back in 2015. However, things are slightly different for a company like Facebook.
The Cambridge Analytica controversy on Facebook was just the tip of the iceberg. Zuckerberg made his face a few days ago with a harsh and indignant tone since, according to him, they had abused his trust and taken advantage of his social network to collect data from more than 50 million of its users. But here, it should be noted that it is not a problem of abuse or betrayal, especially since Facebook itself is the one that collects more information from its users than any other service on the network.
It is said that when “a product is free, it is because you are the product,” and Facebook is the best example of this. And beware, the fault is not 100% of Zuck or Facebook, but of the users who have given their life data to the platform many times without knowing it. Now with the scandal above, something has been discovered that many of us already feared, and that is that Facebook knows, literally, almost everything about us.
Facebook keeps a record of all the websites that you visit so they can optimize the ads. Facebook knows our interests, what we buy, where we are going, and who we are with.
A few days ago, Snowden mentioned that “Facebook is a surveillance company renamed a social network,” and to a certain extent, he is right. And it is that today the brutal amount of information that Facebook has about us has been discovered, all under the argument of selling more and better advertising. Just to put a bit of context, 98.5% of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising. It is already close to surpassing Google, which is today the largest advertising company in the world.
But as I mentioned, part of the problem is not Facebook, but the users and that false and erroneous trust that exists towards online services, where almost no one reads the terms and conditions. Although here it should be noted that in the case of Facebook, this document was created in detail to cause confusion and be deliberately misleading, so even if we read it, we will not know exactly what we are giving to the platform.
Interestingly, Facebook has an option that allows us to see what data it has about us. We only need to enter ‘Settings,’ and there, we will see a small link that says, “Download a copy of your information on Facebook.” When we click, and after several minutes, we will receive an email with a link to download a ZIP with everything that Facebook has of us, which is not little.
The file is divided into multiple sections that include our physical address, our locations, family, friends, all our conversations in Messenger, the information of our contacts and even those that we already eliminate or block, credit cards (in case we have bought something on Facebook), facial recognition data for photo tag suggestions, IP addresses, photos, and their metadata, all of our posts and much more.
Even if you are not active on the platform, the file will likely exceed 1 GB. Here you will find every one of my private messages in Messenger without any type of encryption, including those that you might have deleted, as well as data of all your locations, IPs from where you have connected, and even the ‘Likes’ that you have given. But the most worrying thing is what a programmer from New Zealand, who came across really disturbing things, points out.
In the programmer’s case, Facebook has a detailed history of his phone calls, his complete phone book, where even the contacts he had deleted from his phone appear, all the text messages (SMS) sent and received with metadata, this without having used Messenger as a native application for messages, as well as the metadata of all phone calls, with date, time and duration of each one.
The detail here is that the programmer mentions that he uses an Android device, and when he installed Facebook, he accepted all the permissions it was requested at the time. For those who do not know, Facebook on Android asks permission to access a large amount of information and activities that we carry out on our smartphones, such as calls, SMS messages, your address book, camera, microphone, and more.
But this not only happens on Android but also on iOS, although to a lesser extent, where for example, Messenger asks us for permission to synchronize our contacts on the phone with those on Facebook, which it does through a confusing message where there is only one ‘OK ‘and a’ More information. ‘ That is, it almost forces users to accept under the argument that by doing this, we will have a better experience, and we will always be in contact with our friends.
Here it has been discovered that even if we choose not to activate the synchronization, Messenger will show us a notification every so often for us to activate it. And it doesn’t matter if we accept and later decide to deactivate it. Facebook will keep a copy of our contact list forever.
Tracking Your Activity
In short, Facebook has a titanic database of its users, where the objective is to know how to target your ads in the most precise way and sell all this information to marketing companies.
Facebook they have sent us a statement in this regard, in which they say the following:
“The most important part of applications and services that help make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you log into a messaging or social application with your phone, it is a widely used practice to start by uploading your phone contacts. Contact uploading is optional. People are expressly asked to grant permission to upload their contacts from their phone – explained right there in the apps when you start. People can delete previously uploaded information at any time and find all the information available to them in their account and activity log from our Download Your Information tool. “
At least in Europe, this will change on May 25 when the new data protection law comes into force: GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which will significantly minimize the practices of Facebook and other platforms. If the companies do not comply, they will have to pay up to 4% of their global annual turnover. The bad news is that this is only in Europe, so the rest of the planet will continue under the same scenario.
The recommendation here is to have common sense, stop for a second to think before giving “Accept” in that notification that appears on the screen. We may not have the time to read all the conditions of the services, but we must be more distrustful and think to whom we are giving access to our life. And it’s not about having nothing to hide, but about protecting our friends and family from these increasingly common practices.
Facebook’s decision to change its name is partly rooted in its desire to adopt a more different approach and change its name to represent a different version of the company. As shown above, many currently consider Facebook a brand that only preys on users’ privacy and takes more than they give.
Sure, it’s a free service, but in a world where people are becoming increasingly aware of their data and how it impacts their digital footprint, more and more people are becoming aware of how the company manipulates and uses their data online. It’s a serious problem for many people interested in protecting their privacy online and don’t want the platform to access all their private data.
With this step, the company is planning to change its name and integrate additional products under its umbrella. As it partners with companies like Ray-Ban to release new glasses with cameras in them and doubles down on their investments with the Oculus, it’s easy to understand that its change of policy and name will have a deeper effect than most people realize. Exactly how big of an effect is likely to be seen with time.