Facebook’s data privacy issues have been at the center of discussions regarding unethical business practices. The company has repeatedly shown negligent practices when it comes to protecting its main asset, user data. While accumulating wealth through the popularization of its main social media website, the organization has failed to properly and responsibly enforce its third-party rules or inform users of potential breaches of data. One of the possible reasons for such carelessness on the part of Facebook is that the company’s business model relies on providing a social media platform that is free to use, which means that it is being paid for by advertisers. As illustrated by the 2020 controversy regarding face recognition and the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has made it possible for third parties to intervene and use private data collected by the company and use it for unethical purposes (Cadwalladr and Graham-Harrison). Therefore, concerns arise regarding Facebook’s corrupt business practices and the responsibilities that the company has to its users. It is crucial to study Facebook’s privacy issues and its moral implications for the social media industry and the users that engage with it.
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The History of Privacy Issues
Facebook has often been at the center of controversy associated with its inability to protect its users’ privacy and keep their data secure. For instance, in 2007, Facebook faced a class action suit regarding the “Beacon” scandal, a feature that the company introduced that tracked user data and activities on the Internet, which was one of the initial attempts intended to monetize data collected from users. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is also notable as it was concerned with obtaining the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent and used predominantly for political advertising. The data was collected through the “This Is Your Digital Live” application, consisting of questions that would help build psychological profiles on the basis of the personal data of Facebook. The application collected data from approximately 87 million profiles on Facebook and used it to aid in the area of analytics in the 2016 presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (Rosenberg et al.).
In 2020, the company was also subjected to the privacy-related controversy through the lawsuit regarding the use of facial recognition technology in Illinois. Tag Suggestions, which is Facebook’s photo-labeling service, was claimed to violate the state’s biometric privacy law by collecting facial data from the photos of Facebook users. While the company stated that the claims regarding privacy breaches have no merit, it agreed to settle the suit in a payment of $550 million to eligible Illinois users (Singer and Isaac). The privacy case settlement correlated with the increased public concern regarding the spreading of surveillance technology such as facial recognition. Beyond Facebook, companies such as Google have shown to engage with Artificial Intelligence technologies of face recognition as a method of searching for images. Besides, Twitter’s algorithm has also been opting for facial recognition software but has yet been failing due to the concerns for racial profiling (Wong).
The history of ethical concerns regarding data privacy on Facebook has shown that the company has not been diligent enough to secure the information of its users. Both the Cambridge Analytica and the Facial Recognition Suit show that organizations that have extensive access to user data are more likely use it to gain profit. Besides, as in the case of the AI-related lawsuit, it was shown that Facebook violated the Illinois biometric privacy law, which is a serious problem in the realm of data privacy issues (Singer and Isaac). Similar to the negligence exhibited by Facebook, Google also has violated users’ privacy by having the ability to share data through a wide variety of services, including third parties such as Google AdSense and Google Analytics. The ability of the companies to be negligent in the management of user data is the result of obscure privacy policies to which users agree as well as the dependence on advertisements to make a profit. The lack of regulations in privacy law that could prevent or punish companies for unethical data use is challenging and should be reconsidered.
Due to the history of Facebook’s unethical business practice concerning user privacy issues, it is essential to discuss the possible reason for the company’s negligence. The main challenge concerning Facebook’s inability to protect user data is linked to the fact that the business model of the company relies on advertisements. Because of this, the organization has to do a lot of data analysis to find relevant trends and make relevant forecasts about the products that users will find intriguing. At its core, the business model of Facebook encourages collecting as much user data as possible for maximizing advertisements’ effectiveness, which explains the company’s agreements with third parties.
Nevertheless, despite the dependence of the organization to collect and analyze user data to gain profit, it failed to fulfill its responsibilities under its own Code of Conduct and Data Policy. When it comes to privacy law, Facebook has been shown to consistently violate its provisions through purposefully using customer data without their consent and also having ambiguous policies as to how data is being used. The company must work with external evaluators and privacy law experts to facilitate an overhaul in its data use and privacy policies to which its clients agree. This should also concern other companies such as Google and Twitter that have also been caught for overusing client data and using AI without the consent of customers. Therefore, it is essential that the organizations work on developing a transparency policy that communicates to users as to how their data may be used and for what reason.
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Cadwalladr, Carole, and Emma Graham-Harrison. “Revealed: 50 Million Facebook Profiles Harvested for Cambridge Analytica In Major Data Breach.” The Guardian, 2018, Web.
Rosenberg, Matthew, et al. “How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions.” The New York Times, 2018, Web.
Singer, Natasha, and Mike Isaac. “Facebook to Pay $550 Million to Settle Facial Recognition Suit.” The New York Times, 2020, Web.
Wong, Julia Carrie. “Google reportedly targeted people with ‘dark skin’ to improve facial recognition.” The Guardian, 2019, Web.