We’re Keeping Track of All of Facebook’s Scandals So You Don’t Have To
On Wednesday, it was revealed that initial figures estimating Facebook exposed the data of 50 million users without direct consent were actually much higher than reported, closer to 87 million instead. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now set to testify in front of Congress next week.
But this isn’t the first time Facebook has been embroiled in controversy. The social media company has been involved in a number of scandals just over the past week alone.
Here’s a list of Facebook’s ongoing dilemmas:
The political analysis firm acquired the data of millions of Facebook users from a researcher who collected it via a quiz app on the platform. Cambridge Analytica was also linked to President Trump’s campaign during 2016 and had used the data to build psychological voter profiles ahead of the election.
The revelations sparked immediate backlash as politicians in Washington demanded Zuckerberg testify in front of Congress and calls to #DeleteFacebook started trending on social media sites like Twitter. After an ominous period of silence, Zuckerberg apologized and later agreed to testify on April 11.
Retaining users’ deleted videos
One of Facebook’s responses to the Cambridge Analytica incident was to allow users to download their data archive on the social network in order for users to fully understand what information Facebook stores. This move inadvertently trigged more outcry when users discovered that videos recorded on the platform they had thought they had deleted were still present in Facebook’s archive.
Facebook in turn apologized and called the retention an unintentional “bug.” But the error will likely do little to reassure the public in the wake of a much larger ongoing scandal.
Internal political struggles
Recent anger at Facebook has even come from employees within the company after a 2016 memo written by a Facebook vice president, Andrew Bosworth, leaked last week. In it, Bosworth appears to argue that Facebook’s growth is more important than safety concerns, stirring outrage internally, according to BuzzFeed News.
“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools,” Bosworth wrote, the outlet reported. “And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”
Bosworth confirmed in a statement on Twitter last week that he wrote the memo. “I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it,” he said. “The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company.”
Russia meddling and “fake news”
One of the dominating storylines of the 2016 presidential election was Facebook’s role in allowing Russian propaganda to spread across the social network. Facebook admitted last year that fake Russian Facebook accounts had purchased more than $100,000 in ads, which U.S. intelligence agencies say were intended to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump.
Facebook was additionally implicated in its role of distributing misinformation, a.k.a. “fake news,” from phony news sites, more often than not targeted at Hillary Clinton during the campaign, but rampant on both sides nonetheless.
“The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically,” Zuckerberg wrote days after election night, discussing the company’s plans to combat fake news. “We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content.”
Public profiles being scrapped
Another fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal was Facebook’s revelation on Wednesday that “malicious actors” used the platform’s search tools to obtain personal information of millions of users. Until Wednesday, third parties could do this merely by running a script that enters phone numbers or email addresses into Facebook’s search function in order to create a database.
“Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way,” Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer wrote in statement. “So we have now disabled this feature. We’re also making changes to account recovery to reduce the risk of scraping as well.”
Secret deletion of Zuckerberg’s messages
Facebook users can’t delete messages from someone’s inbox they sent a message to, but Zuckerberg can, according to a recent TechCrunch report. The site reviewed old messages sent between sources and Zuckerberg and, strangely, Zuckerberg’s messages were removed despite their responses still being viewable.
Facebook told the outlet it was a corporate security measure. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.”
But questions remain over why Facebook never publicly disclosed these measures. On Friday, Facebook said it would create an “unsend” feature within the next few months, and that Zuckerberg would be barred from using the feature until it was available to everyone.
Photo and link scans over Messenger
Another privacy-related revelation over the past week: Facebook scans images and links sent between users via Messenger, according to Bloomberg. The company says the practice is done in order to flag content that doesn’t adhere to the platform’s standards. While the practice might sound good in theory, some users took issue with it at a time when Facebook’s ability to uphold privacy is under scrutiny.
Facebook stands by the measure. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”
Spreading hate speech in Myanmar
Once again, Zuckerberg came under fire this week after he told Vox’s Ezra Klein that Facebook helped snuff out anti-Rohingya propaganda through the Messenger scans mentioned above. While conceding that users can take advantage of Facebook’s tools, Zuckerberg said, “In that case, our systems detect that that’s going on. We stop those messages from going through.”
In response, six organizations in Myanmar signed a letter to Zuckerberg rejecting the CEO’s claim. “The Messenger platform (at least in Myanmar) does not provide a reporting function, which would have enabled concerned individuals to flag the messages to you,” the letter read. “Though these dangerous messages were deliberately pushed to large numbers of people – many people who received them say they did not personally know the sender – your team did not seem to have picked up on the pattern. For all of your data, it would seem that it was our personal connection with senior members of your team which led to the issue being dealt with.”