The Cambridge Analytica scandal isn’t over--at least not for Facebook. Following Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) own investigation into Facebook’s data sharing practices with other companies, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have also joined the FTC and the Justice Department in a broader investigation of Facebook’s actions and public statements.
A Better Look Into Facebook’s Practices
Facebook has known since at least 2015 that Cambridge Analytica harvested its users’ data to build political profiles so it could manipulate voters in the interests of various candidates or parties. Facebook didn't tell the public about the issue at the time, but instead waited to say something only after the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations were made.
Facebook has said that at the time it thought the problem was already solved and there was no need to tell the public about what happened. The company also said that it wasn’t aware that Cambridge Analytica didn’t keep its end of the deal to delete the data it had already obtained. Facebook decided against doing an audit of Cambridge Analytica at the time.
According to Justice Department sources, Facebook is being investigated because the agencies want to learn more about what Facebook knew back in 2015 and why there have been discrepancies between what Facebook was doing in private and telling the public in other recent accounts.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Facebook said:
“We are cooperating with officials in the U.S., U.K., and beyond. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”
Facebook’s Perpetual Privacy Scandals
It can also be argued that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was self-inflicted because Facebook was the one establishing lax rules for third-party developers, including allowing them to harvest users’ friends data without the consent of those friends.
Facebook has also permitted dozens of other companies to gain full access to users’ data, including their friends for many years, something that was also kept secret from the public. Keeping such actions secret could very well mean that the company violated its agreement with the FTC from 2011, which prohibited it from misleading the public again about how the users’ data is managed.
But of course, Facebook is only one of several commercially-motivated companies who do this. Simply Google (ahem) "site:www.fsf.org google" to see how far back the scrutiny on Google's privacy issues has been monitored by the Free Software Foundation. While Google has a slightly different profile as relates to user privacy issues in comparison to Facebook, again, we who have been following these stories for a decade or more are in no way surprised.
My call to all users of applications made by companies who make billions of dollars in ad revenue, or "special interest" investments, is simply to read the fine print and case studies on incidents like those Facebooks is currently embroiled in. Is this something you want to be a part of? Do you really need Facebook, Google or similar applications that have full access to your data and computing habits?