Just when you thought things could not get any worse for Facebook, it does. On June 3, 2018, The New York Times published an article claiming that Facebook gave phone and other device makers, including Apple, Blackberry, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung, access to large amounts of users’ personal information. These companies are only a handful out of at least 60 device makers who would have access to users’ personal information, according to the article.
Facebook has been forming partnerships with device makers for over 10 years, even before its mobile app had been produced. These partnerships would allow device makers to offer customers popular features such as messaging and ‘like’ buttons on their mobile device. Facebook also allowed device companies to access users’ personal data, along with users’ friends’ personal data that they had not explicitly consented to give these companies access to. The New York Times article claims these partnerships, “raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 Consent Decree with the Federal Trade Commission.”
This development comes shortly after a massive data crisis with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a political ad firm that misused the data of more than 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain personal information of Facebook users through a personality quiz and failed to delete the information as previously promised. Facebook has been subjected to increasing amounts of scrutiny due to its negligence in vetting the personality quiz and in failing to protect its users’ privacy. After this incident, Facebook prohibited developers to have access to any personal information but failed to disclose that device and phone makers could still have access.
Since the Cambridge Analytica crisis, Facebook has taken great strides to try to correct its image and win back people’s trust. They have even produced a series of apology ads, called “Here Together,” promising, “Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy.” The company also added that Facebook will transition back to what made Facebook “good” in the first place, referring to bringing people closer and making “friends.” These ads started running on April 25th and will continue to run on TV nationally, in select cinemas and on Facebook for the duration of the summer.
To try to work towards a better user experience, Facebook is also shutting down its “trending topics” news feature. The “trending topics” news algorithm pulled and displayed the top trending news stories based on users’ interest; however, it came under fire during the 2016 presidential election when a former Facebook employee claimed that the company would suppress conservative news stories from being in “trending topics,” even when these stories were the most popular. Facebook now says that “trending topics” drove less than 1.5% of the clicks from the platform to the news publishers site and cites it as one of the main reasons it is being shut down.
Will the “Here Together” ads and the shutdown of “trending topics” be enough to fix Facebook’s image? In April, 2018, reports by the Ponemon Institute, a US think tank, found that only 27% of users agreed with the statement: “Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of my personal information.” This number is down considerably from the 79% that agreed in 2017.
A new article from O’Dwyer’s has recently been published, discussing how Facebook is involved in another data breach. Facebook has apologized to users after a glitch surfaced, causing some users’ content to be accessible to all Facebook users, when the content was only supposed to be seen by their friends. According to the Associated Press, 14 million Facebook users were affected by this glitch in May. Facebook said how it has fixed the glitch and contacting the affected users, however many users are calling for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate further into Facebook’s actions, due to its failure in addressing the issue and contacting the affected users in a timely fashion.