Thriving on indifference: Facebook needs an ethics committee
Oh, Facebook… The world’s leader in social media bounces from one scandal to the next as it demonstrates an ongoing disregard for boundaries when it comes to users’ data.
The latest example comes from Gizmodo, who yesterday broke news
that Facebook targets ads using phone numbers users hand over purely for security reasons. What’s more, Facebook denied it was doing this for as long as it could.
Facebook clearly operates on the basis that users generally don’t care about their data, and will tolerate repeatedly compromised privacy as long as they can still find out what their friends are up to. Fines from regulators? They’re just part of the price of doing business.
I honestly believe Mark Zuckerberg sees connecting the world as a genuinely important mission. But Facebook has never been able to balance that with the business it operates around it.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year was the closest scrape Facebook has had in terms of its practices doing permanent damage to its reputation with the public, at least outside the tech and media bubble that keeps its eye on these stories.
It’s perfectly possible for Facebook to target ads at people based on their interests, characteristics and behaviour without it becoming invasive. They just need to be clear and upfront about exactly what is happening, when, and how.
Before it’s too late, Facebook needs an ethics committee – an advocate for the user’s best interests with the same level of influence as the company’s senior management. Any new product or feature would need to be cleared by the committee as being in the users’ interests as much as Facebook’s.
The question is whether Facebook understands why an ethics committee – or call it a ‘user interest panel’ if it sounds more palatable – makes sense for its business in the long term.