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Facebook's data privacy scandal is spiraling

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After a week in which it was battered over its handling of user data, Facebook sought to reset the de
 
March 26 · Issue #105 · View online
The Interface
After a week in which it was battered over its handling of user data, Facebook sought to reset the debate on Sunday with a good old-fashioned full-page print advertisement placed in nine newspapers in the United States and England. “This was a breach of trust and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote to bankers, advertisers, regulators, and whoever else might still be getting the Sunday paper. “I promise to do better for you.”
But even as the world was waking up to his apology, another data privacy issue had captured the world’s attention. Picking up on a tweet from Dylan McKay, Ars Technica reported that for several years Facebook had scraped call and text message data from Android phones. Before Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), granting Facebook access to your contacts also granted the company access to your call and text logs. But Facebook went further, Ars’ Sean Gallagher reported:
The permission structure was changed in the Android API in version 16. But Android applications could bypass this change if they were written to earlier versions of the API, so Facebook API could continue to gain access to call and SMS data by specifying an earlier Android SDK version. Google deprecated version 4.0 of the Android API in October 2017—the point at which the latest call metadata in Facebook users’ data was found. 
Facebook rushed out a "fact check” blog post that said the company had indeed gathered the data in question, but only with user permission. The feature is opt in, the blog posted noted, though the options presented to the user are as follows: yes, “learn more,” and “not now.” As Ars reported:
Facebook never explicitly revealed that the data was being collected, and it was only discovered as part of a review of the data associated with the accounts. The users we talked to only performed such reviews after the recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data.
Gathering user data without explicitly telling users, and gathering that data with no clear benefit to the user, feels a lot like what Cambridge Analytica got in trouble for. There are some crucial differences, of course: Cambridge Analytica was only able to gather data by obtaining it illicitly, from an academic researcher. And Cambridge Analytica didn’t even pretend to a user benefit; it was working to swing an election. But in both cases, large groups of people woke up to the ongoing surveillance of their behavior online and railed at the Facebook-built system that supported it.
Little wonder, then, that a Reuters poll released today showed that Facebook lags behind every major tech company on the issue of trust. A majority of Americans — 51 percent now say they do not trust Facebook “to obey laws that protect your personal information.” And only a small minority favor enhanced personalization of the ads that they see, Chris Kahn and David Ingram report:
Some 63 percent said they would like to see “less targeted advertising” in the future, while 9 percent said they wanted more. When asked to compare them with traditional forms of advertising, 41 percent said targeted ads are “worse” while 21 percent said they are “better.”
Meanwhile, the consequences of the Cambridge Analytica are compounding. The Federal Trade Commission confirmed that it has opened an investigation into whether Facebook has violated its 2011 consent decree on privacy protections. A majority of attorneys general wrote to Facebook demanding answers. And the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has called for hearings involving not just Facebook but Google and Twitter as well:
A panel of Senate lawmakers aims to grill the top executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter next month, the latest indication that the controversy surrounding Facebook’s data privacy practices now threatens to envelope the whole of Silicon Valley.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), on Monday scheduled an April 10 hearing on the “future of data privacy and social media” – and the panel said it would explore potential new “rules of the road” for those companies.
A week in to this story, I see a number of folks rushing out their galaxy-brain takes that actually, none of this matters because Facebook is too big to fail and data privacy concerns are an affectation of the coastal elite. Previous privacy flaps came and went, they note; surely this one as well. 
History is often a reliable guide, but I wonder if it will be less so this time around. Precisely because Facebook is now so large, and so important, the consequences for its failures around data privacy seem likely to be larger as well. Especially when fresh outrages keep popping up just as the company is whacking the previous one down. 
Congress has already called on Zuckerberg to testify — a first in company history. And if the past few days tell us anything, it’s that one piece of bad news often leads to another.

Democracy
Facebook’s switch to prioritizing local news has expanded to all countries and languages
Cloak and Data: The Real Story Behind Cambridge Analytica’s Rise and Fall
The shady data-gathering tactics used by Cambridge Analytica were an open secret to online marketers. I know, because I was one
The #deletefacebook Hashtag Is Being Targeted By Bots, Porn Accounts, And Cryptocurrency Hustlers
Former Cambridge Analytica workers say firm sent foreigners to advise U.S. campaigns
Exclusive: Cambridge Analytica accused of violating US election laws in new legal action
Cambridge Analytica says it’s conducting a third-party audit over Facebook data
ICE Uses Facebook Data to Find and Track Immigrants, Internal Emails Show
New Facebook-Backed Law Would Let Foreign Governments Get Your Data Without a Warrant
Malaysia proposes sweeping ‘fake news’ law
Egypt's fake news hotline
People Are Sharing A Fake Picture Of A Parkland Survivor Tearing Up The Constitution
A False Claim That Snickers Chocolate Bars Cause Cancer Is Going Viral On Facebook
Elsewhere
Exclusive: Facebook will no longer show audience reach estimates for Custom Audiences after vulnerability detected
How Calls for Privacy May Upend Business for Facebook and Google
Facebook and Google Face Emboldened Antagonists: Big Advertisers
South Korea fines Facebook $369K for slowing user internet connections
Apple CEO Tim Cook wants “well-crafted” privacy regulations after latest Facebook scandal
Are corporations that use Wikipedia giving back?
Twitter to ban crypto ads as online crackdown widens
What Happens When You Reach a Million Instagram Followers
Takes
Why the Outrage?
Don’t Delete Facebook. Do Something About It.
Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it
Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing
We Beat Mark Zuckerberg In Hawaii, And We Can Beat Him In Washington
And finally ...
Silicon Valley’s season 5 opening credits include a Facebook Easter egg
C'mon, gang. The Russia thing is like three scandals ago!
What do you know that I don't?
Let’s talk! casey@theverge.com or DM me for my Signal.
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