Two weeks from tomorrow, Mark Zuckerberg will appear before Congress to explain why Facebook allows developers like Cambridge Analytica to scrape personal data from tens of millions of users who never specifically authorized it. His answers to those questions will undoubtedly interest the FTC, which thought it had solved the issue with a consent decree in 2011.
Not surprisingly, Facebook wants to get a head start on providing evidence that they care about the issue. Two of its top executives announced this morning that they have begun work on making data privacy choices “easier to find”:
Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data. We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed. So in addition to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcements last week – cracking down on abuse of the Facebook platform, strengthening our policies, and making it easier for people to revoke apps’ ability to use your data – we’re taking additional steps in the coming weeks to put people more in control of their privacy. Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance.
“For some time”? It’s been seven years since the FTC’s consent decree with Facebook. That decree required Facebook to provide users with notification when their data got accessed without explicit and direct permission. Facebook has been aware of violations ever since, starting with the Barack Obama campaign in 2012 that trawled out massive amounts of user data to build their own electoral analytics, and had yet to do anything significant about it until now. Only when their stock has been plummeting in this user-confidence crisis have they decided to expedite the kind of tools that the FTC consent decree should have prompted three election cycles ago.
ABC covers the changes that will come, albeit after Zuckerberg’s attempts to calm the waters in Washington:
— ABC News (@ABC) March 28, 2018
Among the updates are tools to find, download and delete your Facebook data, as well as a simplified settings menu “accessible from a single place,” Egan and Beringer said.
In addition, there’s a new privacy shortcuts menu “where you can control your data in just a few taps, with clearer explanations of how our controls work,” the pair said. There you can make your account more secure, review your personal information and control who sees your posts and profile information, they said.
In conclusion, they said that “in the coming weeks, we’ll be proposing updates to Facebook’s terms of service that include our commitments to people.”
“We’ll also update our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it. These updates are about transparency — not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data,” Egan and Beringer said.
It’s all about covering Facebook’s rear end, actually, and about recovering some of their lost market value. As of the closing bell yesterday, FB has lost $80 billion off its peak $500 billion valuation in just the last two weeks. Zuckerberg himself has lost $14 billion, but, er … don’t strike up the violins just yet:
Facebook shares fell 5% Tuesday on reports that CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed to testify in front of Congress about the company’s data scandal.
The crisis began on March 16 after Facebook (FB) said it was suspending data analysis company Cambridge Analytica for allegedly harvesting data from more than 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Since then, Facebook’s stock has plunged 18%, wiping out nearly $80 billion from the social networking giant’s market value in the process. Zuckerberg’s net worth has fallen by about $14 billion. (He is still worth $61 billion, though).
The platform is rapidly losing its cachet with users as well as advertisers and investors. Even Playboy announced that it’s pulling the plug on FB, although they have other beefs with the platform:
Playboy says it’s leaving Facebook over the social network’s handling of user data. The move was announced late Tuesday by Playboy’s chief creative officer, Cooper Hefner, who is the son of the magazine’s late founder, Hugh Hefner.
He complained that Facebook’s content guidelines and corporate policies contradict Playboy’s values and that the platform “in our opinion continues to be sexually repressive.”
“Learning of the recent meddling in a free U.S. election further demonstrates another concern we have of how they handle users’ data — more than 25 million of which are Playboy fans — making it clear to us that we must leave the platform,” Cooper Hefner wrote on Twitter.
This is just an attempt to stop the bleeding. However, it might end up doing more damage than good, at least in terms of Facebook’s core value. It makes its money off of developer access to user data, which means that anything restricting that access makes FB inherently less valuable. Developers will be less incentivized to innovate on the FB platform, which will make users less connected to it, and advertisers won’t buy as many ads. Zuckerberg has a catch-22 that may not be resolvable in a manner which will restore the company to its former market capitalization, at least not in the short run.
Right now, though, Facebook and Zuckerberg just want to keep the platform from deflating altogether. It’s amazing the kind of innovation that desperation produces.