When the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $ 5 billion for deceiving users about privacy, it celebrated the penalty as “record-breaking and making history”. Two years later and revenue of $ 200 billion, Facebook has found a way to turn lemons into lemonade, deceiving its users once again and using the seemingly powerless FTC to do so.
Facebook’s push on Tuesday night over the investigation of dangerous lies backed by its platform is based on the lie that the FTC effectively forced its hand. “We have taken these actions to stop unauthorized scratching and protect people’s privacy in accordance with our privacy program under the FTC Order,” it states. The statement drew a barrage of condemnation from federal lawmakers, who accused the company of working to cover up its role in inciting fraud and abuse that have a corrosive effect on the state.
Facebook was not shy in expressing its motivation, although its excuses contained one lie of omission after the next. Action was reportedly taken to disrupt research on her platform conducted from New York University; work aimed at improving the production of knowledge about a range of critically relevant social harms; attracting violent belief systems, arming electoral misinformation, conspiratorial attitudes erode public belief in validated medical science, and so on.
The Knight Institute, a non-profit organization based at Columbia University, is convinced that Facebook’s motive was somehow even more sinister: although Facebook condemned the researchers and their methods ten months ago, their work was allowed to continue until Tuesday – a few hours after learning the researchers expanded the project to include the role of Facebook on January 6, the day of the Capitol Uprising.
Of course, Facebook’s letter promising the suspensions to the FTC neglects to mention the unpleasant nature of this research. There was no mention of research that worked on suffocation, focusing on the role of social media in spreading fraud and conspiracy theories that undermine public health officials’ efforts to curb the new coronavirus and its variants — accumulating the equivalent of the American Civil War in just a quarter.
Facebook has tried to abuse researchers by insinuating that they are violating the privacy of their users. That is not true in the least.
Extensions for Firefox and Chrome developed at NYU – which users install so researchers can view all the ads Facebook inserts into their summaries – sucked in, the company claimed, “data on Facebook users who didn’t install it or agreed to collect it.” This is utterly wrong. The extension catalogs ads exclusively, which means that Facebook intentionally avoids listing. NYU does not even collect the names of people who use this tool. Not to mention this, Facebook’s goal seems clear: to present the NYU team and Cambridge Analytica in the same light, and the suspensions as a necessary step to prevent its next major breach. The fact is that Facebook only protects itself from public scrutiny as to whether it follows its own guidelines when accepting money to promote information.
It goes on to say that the tool, known as Ad Observer, is designed to “avoid” [its] detection systems ”, which sounds as if the researchers did not issue a press release announcing its launch or place the code on the network to review the company.
Apparently, the only thing Facebook complains about is that NYU hasn’t given it the ability to track who uses Ad Observer. And why, a curious person would ask, could Facebook even want that? The answer seems obvious: take control of the experiment. If Facebook can tell which accounts are helping NYU research, then it can manipulate the results out of whim. All job-relevant ads — anything remotely related to politics, the covid-19 vaccine, or the Capitol Rebellion — could be previewed manually in advance or left out of the feeds altogether.
The company claims to have offered NYU an alternative data set for further research and — through a series of omissions — implies that the only difference is that its data is more privacy-friendly. What it doesn’t say is that it only covers the three-month period until the 2020 election. The NYU team expanded the scope of its project this year to include, for example, misinformation about the covid-19 vaccine; however, Facebook data ceases a month before the first vaccine is approved. Therefore, it is mostly useless today. No Facebook statement mentions that.
Moreover, Facebook has removed most of its ads related to politics and social issues. Ads with less than 100 impressions are not included; an arbitrary figure that he claims is a “privacy measure”. (Advertisers who made 101 impressions obviously don’t need privacy.) These cheap ads are actually NYU meat and potato research; it’s not just focused on big political campaigns, but on smaller ones that occasionally paid less than $ 100 to misinform a select group of voters using Facebook’s micro-targeting platform.
Individually, these omissions are small and are to be expected from a company trying to present itself in the best light. But the more they agree, their excuses don’t seem to make sense. Users effectively voluntarily provided NYU with screenshots of their Facebook content – everything but commercials was blurred. This is not a violation of privacy. Facebook’s only counter-bid required NYU to give it sole authority to control and limit the data on which its research is based.
“These are the actions of a company that obviously has something to hide about how dangerous misinformation and misinformation is spreading on its platform,” said MP Frank Pallone, Jr., president of the House of Energy and Trade, which has broad public health authority.
MP Jan Schakowsky, chairman of the consumer protection committee, added that Facebook “wants to instill fear in the hearts of its critics and cool academic research that could undermine [its] essence. A Schakowsky spokesman said Facebook’s explanation for the suspension, that it was necessary under a settlement with the FTC, was false.
“Of course we don’t accept that interpretation – look at how Facebook reacted to another scratching incident earlier this year,” the aide said, citing Facebook’s decision. not to tell users if among the 530 million people whose data was stolen. “They said they had no responsibility to inform tens of millions of people whose data had been deleted that their personal data might be compromised.”
Acting FTC director Samuel Levine wrote on Thursday that he was “disappointed” on Facebook because he falsely blamed the privacy solution the agency negotiated with the company. “Indeed, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on non-transparent business practices,” he wrote, “especially around surveillance-based advertising.”
Levine thanked Facebook for “correcting the record now,” something he seriously didn’t do. His original post blaming the FTC has not been updated. The Facebook account on Twitter, where the letter was posted, did not share any clarifications. Levine appears to be referring to a statement issued by Wired on Wednesday:
Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, admits the consent ordinance did not force Facebook to suspend the researchers ’accounts. Instead, he says, section 7 of the regulation requires Facebook to implement a “comprehensive privacy program” that “protects the privacy, confidentiality, and integrity” of user data.
In other words, Facebook has admitted it is not forced to do anything. Instead, on the day he learned that researchers were able to gather evidence of his role in the riots on the Capitol, he abruptly moved to crush it and found a suitable reason for it. Facebook was penalized by the FTC two years ago for deceiving privacy users; a deception she only repeated using their privacy as a scapegoat.
Just a week ago, Facebook’s chief adviser committed to “timely, transparent communication” with the FTC about any “significant moves,” Levine wrote, but no one on the commission received as many phone calls about this crackdown. Regardless, he confirmed, the FTC will do nothing. Instead, Levine added that he “hopes” that the company did not intentionally use privacy or its agreement with the agency, “as an excuse to achieve other goals”.
The timing of Facebook’s action and the multitude of deceptive excuses it offered – complicated by the fact that researchers are still suspended despite the FTC’s now giving written approval – make it clear that this has just happened. What’s worse, the lack of consequences signals that Facebook has enough room to interpret its privacy policies in ways that best serve its purpose, not users.
More than a hundred academics, researchers and technologists signed the letter on Friday he condemned the company for trying to silence a “critical overseer of a powerful corporation”.
“The Ads Observatory provides research that is key to assessing whether Facebook is meeting its promises of transparency,” the letter said. “It allows researchers to check if it’s Facebook Ad Library publishes all ads that run on its platform. The Ads Observatory also collects data that is not available in its own Facebook library, including information about why ads are targeted to specific users. This information is critical to understanding the potential manipulations as well as the broader civic impacts of advertising, especially political advertising. ”
“We see Facebook’s actions against New York as part of a long-standing pattern among large technology companies,” it concludes, “they have all systematically undermined accountability and independent research of public interest.”