An ex Facebook Privacy Manager has taken to the New York Times to describe the social network’s business model of prioritising collection of data over user privacy and abuse prevention.
Sandy Parakilas worked at Facebook before the company’s I.P.O in 2012. He now works as a Product Manager at Uber, also infamous for its controversial privacy practices. In the NY Time opinion piece, Parakilas writes, “What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia’s election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t.”
Since Facebook is deeply entrenched in the personal lives of its users, Parakilas says that its ability to track information such as a user’s location, friends, interests, relationships, etc, makes the platform very attractive to advertisers looking to tap into its 1 billion strong user base. “It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O.” he says.
The opinion piece further explains that as more and more data is offered to advertisers by Facebook, it loses incentive to regulate or police this data collection and only jumps into action when some negative publicity or regulators are informed. Case in point, its very public fight against fake news after receiving bad press and multiple fines by regulators.
Facebook was also recently fined for a sum of €1.2 million by Spain’s data privacy regulator. The Spanish regulator issued a statement saying, “Facebook does not adequately collect the consent of either its users or nonusers, which constitutes a serious infringement.” The fine comes just a few months after the company was reprimanded and fined by regulators in France for similar reasons.
“Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place,” writes Parakilas. Exemplifying how Facebook misuses user data, the former employee talks about games such as Farmville and Candy Crush. He says that users were given free access to the games in order to give developers free access to their data.
“Once data went to the developer of a game, there was not much Facebook could do about misuse except to call the developer in question and threaten to cut off the developer’s access”
Parakilas recalls that when he was given the responsibility of fixing the problem, he found that developers were automatically generating profiles of children without their consent. When Parakilas contacted the developers for clarification, he was told that Facebook’s policies for data use were not being violated and the company had no way to double check the same.
Facebook’s privacy violations were also highlighted recently when an old YouTube video went viral on Reddit. The YouTuber claimed that Facebook is always eavesdropping on its users' conversations and conducted a small experiment to prove the same. The video shows the YouTube user discussing cat food with his partner, with his phone lying next to him during the course of the conversation. Facebook then started showing the YouTuber ads about cat food out of the blue.
However, Facebook denied these charges and released a statement back in October, stating that it does not listen into conversations. Facebook’s VP of Advertising Rob Goldman wrote in a tweet, “I run ads product at Facebook. We don't - and have never - used your microphone for ads. Just not true.”
These disturbing factors create a sense of mistrust, especially given the overwhelming reach of the Facebook platform. So far, the company has not issued any response to Parakilas’ opinion piece.