The Dark Days Of Facebook, And The Light Ahead

The Facebook Inc. application on an Apple Inc. iPhone. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Facebook just suffered the ugliest few weeks in its history, and I’m not talking about its shares plunging over 40% in the last four months.

The company allegedly sold user data to businesses in secret deals, according to emails and internal documents released this week by U.K. lawmakers. Facebook has for years been collecting Android phone data — dates, times, call lengths, call recipients, phone numbers and text messages — even when people weren’t using its app, and it sold the personal data of over 87 million users to the political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, even though only about 270,000 people signed up to use it.

But the recent documents show it also considered bypassing user consent by circumventing Google’s pop-up permission request.

“This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” one Facebook product manager writes, “but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.”

This led CEO Mark Zuckerberg to issue a carefully worded denial. “These emails were only part of our discussions,” he said. “We’ve never sold anyone’s data.”

But that’s cold comfort, because such tactics should never have been entertained in the first place. And it’s not the only scandal the company has recently endured.

Facebook admitted last month that in Myanmar — where it’s so widely used, many mistake it for the internet — it failed to prevent the military from spreading anti-Rohingya propaganda.

This propaganda incited violence against the Rohingya, who have suffered forced migration, rapes, massacres and had their children beheaded and burned alive.

News broke days later that a South Sudanese child bride had apparently been sold on the site, prompting the local director of one children’s rights group to remark, “This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets.”

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