Facebook: Lip Service to Privacy Is Over

Opinion

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how it is being used, or how the data is being commingled with other data sets and eventually sold to advertisers.

The company isn’t ignoring today’s brouhaha. In recent days, and in response to growing outcries, it has ordered the identification and removal of a new batch of 135 accounts on its site linked to troll farms operated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency. It has announced that it will require advertisers wanting to run ads on hot-button political issues to first undergo an authorization process. Facebook is also releasing greater detail about how it collects and deploys troves of information about users; and it is proposing revisions to its privacy disclosures.

Facebook’s poor track record

These steps, though, are insufficient, and not merely because they don’t have enough teeth. Facebook has a poor track record of protecting privacy, even when it indicates it will do so.

In 2009, when Facebook unveiled new privacy controls, the goal was supposedly to enhance privacy options, theoretically making it easier for users to control how much of their information was public and how much viewable only to their network of friends.

What Facebook actually did, however, was to make everybody’s information public by default, forcing users to take active steps to make their settings more private—and knowing that many would not bother to do so.

Two years later, the Federal Trade Commission charged that Facebook deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information private, but then allowing their data to be made public. A settlement with the FTC required the company to give consumers notice before sharing information beyond what their data settings permitted.

Mark Zuckerberg is a world-class expert at monetizing aggregated data at the expense of privacy, which in Europe is rightly considered a fundamental human right. If users want more say over what is depicted about them online, that is a wise decision in these tumultuous times. If that challenges Facebook’s ability to maximize profits, so be it. Perhaps this opens the door for a new wave of innovation where privacy (and its twin—security) come first.

Photo of Robert Ackerman courtesy of AllegisCyber

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Robert R. Ackerman Jr. is the founder and managing director of AllegisCyber, an early stage venture capital firm specializing in cybersecurity, and a co-founder and executive at DataTribe, a cybersecurity startup studio in metropolitan Washington D.C. Follow @bobackerman

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