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Posted on December 12, 2018

More Facebook Misconduct

Facebook has been in quite a bit of hot water lately due to the way it has handled its users’ personal information, from the pages and products you like, to the things you buy on other websites or see on the news. Who has access to this information? Typically, only advertising partners who work to get you to buy things you’re interested in. But what happens when that seemingly harmless page you like directs you to products Facebook favors for reasons you aren’t privy to?

According to papers released by a British parliamentary committee, this has happened frequently in the last few years with companies like Uber, Netflix, Airbnb and others, who were granted special access to the platform. Users were heavily (even exclusively) inundated with ads from only those companies, at the expense of smaller competitors who didn’t have favored status with Facebook.

This was problematic, as it was not simply an unintended consequence of a free market system. Companies that Zuckerberg and co. perceived as threatening were cut off at the knees when it came to app integration, as when Twitter and Vine merged.

One can hope for certain standards to be upheld by social sites, including preventing malicious Russian actors from papering our feeds with dangerously manipulative political content. Facebook is a business and can’t be expected to turn away ad money in an altruistic display of support for upstart companies, but they ought to keep the playing field level, so as not to function as an untouchable monopoly. And also because it’s conducting business with integrity and transparency, which we value as a culture.
These insults to individuals and businesses alike are part of a long list of PR missteps Facebook has made in the last few years. Here are some others:

Instead of the once optimistic, positive future of freely sharing only the data that users approved and intended, Facebook has grown ever more ambitious as it’s acquired more corporate partners. Profits outweigh every other consideration, and if there’s no money to be made, services are put on the back burner. Plus, Facebook is asking its users to share ever more data about themselves and their friends, in order to more quickly and effectively target directed advertising.

The goal? As always, to get as much private info about the shopping public as possible. This mass data collection and retrieval system should rightly trigger consumer concern, but since we’re talking about a “friendly” social media site, people feel as though sharing their likes, pictures, or updates is harmless. But the context shouldn’t mean we overlook the (concerning) facts as they exist in Facebook’s own Terms and Conditions policies.

Of course, as the British committee showed, Facebook was aware of these nefarious practices long before they came to light, and even while they were in the process of implementing these non-compete targeting practices. A now infamous internal email lamented the public relations nightmare that was to become the Android call logging fiasco, wherein Facebook issued an update to its Android app, allowing them to an uncomfortable amount of access. Calls and texts were logged, but Facebook was never transparent in the update notes as to the fact that it was doing this.

Yet, for Facebook, this incredible invasion of privacy was just a means to an end. This new trove of information for current and potential Facebook users had far-reaching implications for advertisers affiliated with the site. But, as has become the standard scenario, a swift apology was issued, the onerous features were ostensibly removed, and the forgiving populace continued to use the app on Android OS.

Thankfully, there are solutions available for users who still want to browse the web and enjoy social media without having every move tracked. TrackOFF creates personalized workarounds so that your data is only shared where you want it, and with whom you want it. With advertising growing in ubiquity and sophistication, having control over your tech can bring welcome peace of mind. We can’t always count on the sites that mine our data to treat it properly, but we can look out for ourselves by taking small steps towards personal data security.

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