Why Facebook is not invulnerable and what we can do about it

While conventional wisdom says that Marc Zuckerberg held his own in his appearances before the house and senate committees, I have a different opinion. Clearly he was well prepared and didn’t make any really significant errors in his answers. But after listening to him for two days, I thought he came across as evasive, scripted and unresponsive to the addressing the problems Facebook has and the questions he was asked. He carefully avoided answering many specific questions and glibly skated around direct questions such as, “Does Facebook sell your data?” by parsing terms.

His only admission was that the company didn’t do something sooner than it was done.  In other words, it was fixed, but just not as soon as it could or should have been. It was aptly termed his apology tour, but never made much of a commitment to change the company’s ways. It was a succession of apologies that we’ve heard over the years.

Zuckerberg gave very little when some of the questioners confronted him with several troubling policy and behavioral issues Probably the most newsworthy one was his refusing to answer about Facebook’s policies of tracking and profiling those that are not Facebook members. He said it was being done to protect the security of Facebook, which made no sense at all.

Many may say that Facebook users just don’t care and will continue to use the service. But I think there is now the beginnings of a groundswell of people not trusting Facebook with what they do and what they say. A recent survey puts that number in the eighty percentile. A loss of trust is the first bit of erosion before a big fall. Journalists will not allow Zuckerberg’s erroneous answer of tracking non-members to go unchallenged. That will just add more skepticism to what Facebook says.

My takeaway from 10 hours of testimony is there’s a lot that we still don’t know about the workings of Facebook, its harvesting of personal data, and its indifference to the privacy of its users.  And in this regard, Zuckerberg’s evasive answers just made this more obvious.

In the weeks that followed, there’s been nothing out of Facebook that provides any more assurance that the company will change its ways. In a very well written daily newsletter, The Interface by Casey Newton, example after example reinforces its business as usual.

In a recent posting he notes a Wired article that shows how Price Waterhouse messed up in their audit of Facebook, totally missing the Cambridge Analytica breech.

TWO YEARS AFTER Facebook learned that a university researcher had given political consultancy Cambridge Analytica personal information on millions of Facebook users, a government-mandated outside audit of Facebook’s privacy practices found nothing wrong.

The April 2017 audit, by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), had been required as part of a 2011 consent decreebetween Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission.

“In our opinion, Facebook’s privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy of covered information and that the controls have so operated throughout the Reporting Period, in all material respects for the two years ended February 11, 2017, based upon the Facebook Privacy Program set forth in Management’s Assertion,” PwC concluded, in a report submitted to the FTC.

What we’re seeing with Newton’s newsletter and the Wired article is much more attention being given to Facebook’s bad behavior than before. Our hope for fixing these issues now seems to lie with the technology press rather than our representatives. Some of these resources can be relentless.

As for what action we all can take, just stop using Facebook and vote with our eyeballs. You can do this in several phases. First, cut down your visits to once a day and limit the time you’re on line. Next opt out of Facebook, first by deactivating your account. This still allows you to return by just signing back on. And finally, close your account permanently. Each of these actions are measured and monitored by Facebook. If enough  people do this they will get the message. I still think a few more privacy breeches or examples of bad behavior can result in a groundswell of departures. Sudden departures happened with AOL and My Space and it’s possible to happen with Facebook, particularly if a rival service comes along that addresses the privacy issue. Facebook’s biggest weakness is their arrogance and thinking they can continue with the same bad behavior.

by Phil Baker