Facebook has undeniably put themselves in the worst possible situation that a company can be in. While no one was really surprised that Facebook would divulge user information to others, Facebook really shocked users and their investors with the sheer scope of the information abused.
It all started whenever a whistleblower from a political consulting firm known as Cambridge Analytica revealed that the company had amassed copies of private data of over 50 million Facebook users. Such a massive abuse of user information alarmed many, ranging from investors to the users whose information was unlawfully taken and used. Facebook apparently caught the firm back in 2015, but they did not ban them; instead, they sought to ensure that Cambridge Analytica’s copies of information were deleted, which is something that the firm did not do. Facebook did not ban them from their service until the scandal broke this week, which only goes to show a pattern of ill-advised actions on behalf of one of the largest technology companies in the United States.
The massive data leak alone is enough of an issue for Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission opened up an investigation into the company on the grounds that Facebook violated an FTC consent decree from 2011, allowing for a fine for each user affected to the tune of $40,000 per user. That is a total fine of $2 trillion should the government find that Facebook actually did violate the decree, which frankly is well beyond what any company would be able to withstand. However, Facebook seems to keep trying to make things worse. After the story broke, Facebook scrambled to find a response to the issue. However, they failed to find one that would reassure people, which was only made worse by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg and his COO, Sheryl Sandberg, failed to even appear in public or make a statement until at least a full day. By then, users and investors were aghast at the information, and many were selling off their stock in the corporation, causing a massive stock drop (and thus, a massive class action lawsuit). It’s an absolute public relations disaster for Facebook, only being compounded by mistakes like threatening to sue The Guardian for running the story and allegations of insider trading by Zuckerberg and other executives (seriously, though- they have sold nearly $1.2 billion in stock collectively since January. It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in ethical standards.)
At the end of the day, responsibility for what happened with Cambridge Analytica falls exclusively with Facebook, and to a lesser extent, with the rest of Silicon Valley. We have been warned as users that data sharing between tech companies has been out of control for years. We have been warned that they are sharing our location, our interests, our friend lists, or virtually anything possible. However, it ultimately falls to Facebook and other companies to protect that private information instead of giving it out without our consent.
However, if you talk with the media and the Democrats, they will tell you very quickly that this is, as per usual, Trump’s fault. The information went through Cambridge Analytica to his campaign, right? Actually, not quite. CBS News reported that while the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica early on as a political consulting firm, the data that has been so extensively covered by the media was never actually used by the campaign, as it was “relatively new and of suspect quality and value.” Why doesn’t the media report on the massive abuse leveled by the Obama 2012 campaign, where, as Carol Davidsen (the campaign’s former director of integration and media analytics) put it, “suck[ed] out the whole social graph” and Facebook decided to let such abuse continue? Why not report on how both Zuckerberg and Sandberg corresponded directly with Clinton 2016 campaign chair John Podesta, where they spoke of their support of Clinton and ensuring that they would do whatever it took to get her elected? If we are going to get outraged at Donald Trump for hiring a firm and then not using the data they accrued, then we should certainly be disgusted at the fact that the Democratic campaigns in 2012 and 2016 were actively working with Facebook to sway elections. Instead of focusing on the real issue here of Facebook literally destroying the idealistic concept of online privacy, the media is set to go after Trump again for something that isn’t a story, and thus they ignore several different stories that they should certainly cover.
If Facebook finally faces its demise, it will not be due to a political candidate. It will be due to their unethical, illegal actions. It will be because Facebook decided to keep to the standards of the industry, to promote their political ideals over the legal and ethical standards that each company should keep to, especially when they have control of your private information. If Facebook collapses, it will be because they are collapsing under the weight of their own illegal activities, and that is something that could be well deserved.