A grand illusion: seven days that shattered Facebooks facade


    Revelations about the depths of Facebooks failure to protect our data have finally drew back the drapery, commentators say

    ” Dumb fucks .” That’s how Mark Zuckerberg described customers of Facebook for trusting him with their personal data back in 2004. If the last week is anything to go by, he was right.

    Since the Observer reported that the personal data of about 50 million Americans had been harvested from Facebook and improperly shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, it has become increasingly apparent that the social network has been far more lax with its data sharing practices than many consumers realised.

    As the scandal unfurled over the last seven days, Facebook’s lackluster response has highlighted a fundamental challenge for the company: how can it condemn the practice on which its business model depends?

    ” This is the tale we have been waiting for so people will pay attention not only to Facebook but the entire surveillance economy ,” told Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.

    Since Zuckerberg’s ” dumb fucks” comment, Facebook has gone to great lengths to convince members of the public that it’s all about” connecting people” and” constructing a global community “. This pseudo-uplifting marketing speak is much easier for employees and users to stomach than the mission of” guzzling personal data so we can micro-target you with advertise “.

    In the wake of the revelations that Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data collected by Dr Aleksandr Kogan for the purposes of the guise of academic research, Facebook has scrambled to blame these rogue third party for” platform mistreat “.” The entire company is outraged “were in” misled ,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

    However in highlighting the apparent deceit, the company has been forced to shine a light on its underlying business modeling and years of careless data sharing practices.

    Sure, the data changed hands between health researchers and Cambridge Analytica in apparent violation of Kogan’s agreement with Facebook, but everything else was above board. The amount of data Cambridge Analytica got hold of and used to deliver targeted advertising based on personality types- including activities, interests, check-ins, locating, photos, religion, politics, relationship details- was not unusual in the slightest. This was a feature , not a bug.

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    ‘Extremely friendly to app developers’

    There are thousands of other developers, including the makers of the dating app Tinder, plays such as FarmVille, as well as consultants to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, who slurped huge quantities of data about consumers and their friends- all thanks to Facebook’s overly permissive “Graph API”, the interface through which third party could interact with Facebook’s platform.

    Facebook opened up in order to attract app developers to join Facebook’s ecosystem at a time when the company was playing catch-up in shifting its business from desktops to smartphones. It was a symbiotic relationship that was critical to Facebook’s growth.

    ” They wanted to push just as much of the conversation, ad revenue and digital activity as is practicable and attained it exceedingly friendly to app developers ,” told Jeff Hauser, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.” Now they are grumbling that the developers abused them. They wanted that. They were encouraging it. They may now regret it but they knowingly unleashed the forces that have led to this lack of trust and loss of privacy .”

    The words were updated in April 2014 to restrict the data new developers could get hold of, including people’s friends’ data, but simply after four years of access to the Facebook firehose. Companies that plugged in before April 2014 had another time before access was restricted.

    ” There are all sorts of companies that are in possession of terabytes of information from before 2015 ,” told Hauser.” Facebook’s practices don’t bear up to close, informed scrutiny nearly as well as they look from the 30,000 ft view, which is how people had been viewing Facebook previously .”

    Cambridge Analytica claims it helped get Trump elected by using data to target voters on Facebook. Photo: Win Mcnamee/ AFP/ Getty Images

    For too long customers have thought about privacy on Facebook in terms of whether their ex-boyfriends or boss could see their photos. Nonetheless, as we fiddle around with our profile privacy sets, the real intrusions have been taking place elsewhere.

    ” In this sense, Facebook’s’ privacy settings’ are a grand misconception. Control over post-sharing- people we share to- should really be called’ publicity determines ‘,” explains Jonathan Albright, the research administrator at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.” Likewise, control over passive sharing- the information people[ including third party apps] can take from us- should be called’ privacy specifies ‘.”

    Essentially Facebook devotes us privacy “busywork” to build us think we have control, while inducing it very difficult to truly lock down our accounts.

    ‘T he biggest issue I’ve ever seen ‘

    Facebook is dealing with a PR minefield. The more it talks about its advertise practices, the more the #DeleteFacebook motion grows. Even the co-founder of WhatsApp Brian Acton, who profited from Facebook’s $ 19 bn acquisition of his app, this week said he was deleting his account.

    ” This is the biggest issue I’ve ever seen any engineering company face in my period ,” mentioned Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor.

    ” It’s not like tech hasn’t had a lot of scandals ,” he told, mentioning the Theranos fraud case and MiniScribe packing actual bricks into containers instead of hard drives.” But no one else has played a role in undermining democracy or the persecution of minorities before. This is a whole new ball game in the tech world and it’s really, really horrible .”

    Facebook first discovered that Kogan had shared data with Cambridge Analytica when a Guardian correspondent contacted the company about it at the end of 2015. It asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data and revoked Kogan’s apps’ API access. Nonetheless, Facebook relied on Cambridge Analytica’s term that they had done so.

    When the Observer contacted Facebook last week with testimony from a whistleblower stating that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted the data, Facebook’s reaction was to try to get ahead of the tale by writing its own disclosure late on Friday and sending a legal advise to try to prevent publication of its bombshell discoveries.

    Then followed five days of virtual stillnes from the company, as the chorus of calls from critics developed louder, and detailed information about Facebook’s business dealings emerged.

    A second whistleblower, the former Facebook manager Sandy Parakilas, revealed that he found Facebook’s lack of control over the data given to outside developers” utterly horrifying “. He told the Guardian that he had warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major violate, but that he was discouraged from analyse further.

    At around the same time, it emerged that the co-director of the company that harvested the Facebook data before passing it to Cambridge Analytic is a current employee at Facebook. Joseph Chancellor worked alongside Kogan at Global Science Research, which exfiltrated the data use a personality app for the purposes of the guise of academic research.

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    Demand for answers

    Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic called for answers. In the US, the Democratic senator Mark Warner called for regulation, describing the online political ad marketplace as the” wild west “.

    ” Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this marketplace will continue to be prone to fraud and lacking in transparency ,” he told.

    The Federal Trade Commission plans to examine whether the social networking website violated a 2011 data privacy arrangement with the agency over its data-sharing practices.

    In the UK, MPs summoned Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, to give evidence to a select committee investigating fake news.

    ” I think they are in a very bad situation because they have long benefitted from the tech illiteracy of the political community ,” said Hauser.

    The backlash spooked investors, wiping nearly $50 bn off the valuation of the company in two days, although the stocks had now been rallied slightly.

    On Wednesday, Zuckerberg ultimately broke his silence in a Facebook post acknowledging that the policies that allowed the misuse of data were a” breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it “.

    The social network is facing calls for answers from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Photo: Josh Edelson/ AFP/ Getty Images

    Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, added her own comment:” We know that this was a major violation of people’s trust, and I deeply regret that we didn’t do enough to deal with it .”

    The company will investigate apps that had access to” large-scale amounts of information” before the 2014 changes and examination thousands of apps that prove” suspicious activity “. The corporation will also inform those whose data was ” misused”, including people who were directly affected by the Kogan operation.

    These actions don’t go far enough, told Vaidhyanathan.

    ” Facebook has a history of putting on that innocent little boy voice:’ Oh I didn’t know that I shouldn’t hold the feline by its tail ,'” he mentioned.” I think we’re tired of it at this phase .”

    These difficulties were pointed out by intellectuals years ago, told Robyn Caplan, a researcher at Data& Society, but Facebook’s response was slow and insufficient.

    ” They have been trying to put under a lot of little flames but we need them to build a fire department ,” she said.

    Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ technology/ 2018/ mar/ 24/ cambridge-analytica-week-that-shattered-facebook-privacy