Comments like that strongly suggest that he never took privacy seriously, and all his recent talk is merely a feeble attempt to rescue his deeply troubled company. Zuckerberg simply decided that zero privacy was the “new social norm” and “just went for it,” implementing changes that stripped users of the right to expect privacy in the first place.
Since then, Facebook has grown from 350 million users to 2.32 billion,20 all of whom are being invasively tracked across multiple platforms owned not just by Facebook but also its various business partners.
And while some might argue that if you decide to join Facebook’s “free” service, you simply have to expect and accept that you’re going to be tracked and have your personal data sold in hundreds of different ways, the problem with that argument is that Facebook has become such a gigantic monopoly that if you want to communicate with a group of family or friends, you have little choice but to join Facebook, because that’s where everyone is.
Facebook also isn’t just Facebook anymore. It also owns other massive platforms, including Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Last year, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton told CBS News he “sold [his] users’ privacy” when he agreed to sell the company to Facebook back in 2014.21 “I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day,” he said.
According to reports, Facebook is now planning to merge the three platforms,22 which “will make Facebook more difficult to break up and spin off, as has been proposed by governments and regulators,” Express reported back on January 26.23 Some suspect the March 13, 2019, outage that simultaneously took down Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for about 14 hours may actually have been related to this as-yet unacknowledged metadata merger.
Officially, Facebook blamed the outage on a “server configuration change” that ended up affecting the company’s apps and services across the board.24
“Was the outage a result of Facebook trying to combine systems and get ahead of regulators, especially when this month, an open debate opened up over whether Facebook’s takeover of Instagram and WhatsApp should be rolled back?” Packt asks.25 Similarly, The Register suggested:26
“[T]hat ‘server configuration change’ may have been more conspiracy than cockup, a move to bring together Facebook’s individual components. An effort so large and complex, it resulted in 14 hours of downtime. That may help explain why the biz is being so secretive about the cause of the outage. Bringing together everything under one roof is certainly one way to avoid potential regulatory break-up.”
Privacy Emphasis Likely a Red Herring
The integration of Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram is a move that has been criticized by some tech experts, as it may further tighten the proverbial noose around users. As pointed out by Ari Ezra Waldman in a Slate article that is well worth reading in its entirety, although I’m quoting a larger than normal portion of it here for your convenience:27
“Mark Zuckerberg would like you to think that winter is coming for Facebook’s privacy invasive past … The news comes about a month after it was first leaked that Facebook was in the early stages of integrating the messaging services of its disparate platforms … to create an interoperable, encrypted messaging system by the end of 2019 or early 2020 …
On its face, some of his plans are positive. Ephemeral messaging, already deployed in Instagram, can give people more confidence to share. End-to-end encryption, already used on WhatsApp, helps to ensure that the only people who can decipher a message are the sender and receiver …
And yet, I’m concerned. Zuckerberg’s post … [is] a diversion, a magician’s misdirection full of red herrings … Read more cynically, the post seems to use a narrow definition of the concept [of privacy] to distract us from the ways Facebook will likely continue to expand its invasion of our digital private lives for profit.
In his writing, it seems when Zuckerberg thinks about privacy, he thinks about encryption … In practice, privacy is about limiting data collection, placing restrictions on who can access and manipulate user data, and minimizing or barring data from flowing to third parties. Zuckerberg mentions none of that in his essay.
When he talks about encrypting the messages users send … he neglects to mention that Facebook will still be able to collect the metadata from these messages, like who individual users message and when.
When he talks about interoperability, he glosses over whether the merger may require users to give up anonymity they may have on WhatsApp to comply with Facebook’s real name requirements. When he talks about a new digital living room, he conveniently leaves out the advertisers that will be invited into these spaces, too.
And all the new ways platform connections will allow our information — profile data, messaging activity, clicks and hovers, interactions, GPS location, outside browsing history, and app use — to be used to help Facebook target ads in even more invasive ways.”
Facebook’s Monopoly Must Be Broken Up
In an MIT Technology Review article,28 Konstantin Kakaes also calls Zuckerberg’s essay “a power grab disguised as an act of contrition,” stating that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that if privacy is to be protected in any meaningful way, Facebook must be broken up.” He goes on to point out:
“The most problematic [principle] is the way [Zuckerberg] discusses ‘interoperability.’ Zuckerberg allows that people should have a choice between messaging services …
But allowing communications that are outside Facebook’s control, he says, would be dangerous if users were allowed to send messages not subject to surveillance by Facebook’s ‘safety and security systems.’
Which is to say we should be allowed to use any messaging service we like, so long as it’s controlled by Facebook for our protection. Zuckerberg is arguing for tighter and tighter integration of Facebook’s various properties.
Monopoly power is problematic even for companies that just make a lot of money selling widgets: it allows them to exert undue influence on regulators and to rip off consumers. But it’s particularly worrisome for a company like Facebook, whose product is information … At a minimum, splitting WhatsApp and Instagram from Facebook is a necessary first step.”
German Antitrust Regulator Puts the Brakes on Facebook’s Unrestricted Data Mining
February 7, 2019, Forbes29 reported the German antitrust regulator, Bundeskartellamt, has become the first to prohibit “the cross-application data sharing that underpins Facebooks’s advertising business model.” According to Bundeskartellamt:
“In the future, Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts.
Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram can continue to collect data, however, assigning the data to Facebook user accounts will only be possible subject to the users’ voluntary consent. Where consent is not given, the data must remain with the respective service and cannot be processed in combination with Facebook data.”
With this decision, none of Facebook’s services will be permissible in Germany if or when the company integrates its three messaging platforms. Should other countries follow suit, the Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram messaging integration would fall through — as it probably should.
As mentioned, Facebook is not only a national monopoly, it’s a global one, and by integrating Instagram and WhatsApp, it further consolidates two additional monopolies into what you could call a global super-monopoly with unprecedented (and likely unfathomable) data mining capabilities, which hurts both consumers and industries.
Facebook Caught Censoring Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Posts
U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has become an outspoken proponent of breaking up monopolies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, and has vowed to introduce “sweeping new regulation of Silicon Valley,” should she be elected president, the Los Angeles Times reports.30 A detailed outline of her plan can be found in her March 8, 2019, article on Medium.31
“To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies,” Warren writes, adding:
“We must ensure that today’s tech giants do not crowd out potential competitors, smother the next generation of great tech companies, and wield so much power that they can undermine our democracy.”
As you probably know, Facebook has promised to combat “fake news” on its platform, but it appears this censorship doesn’t end at blatantly fake news articles — far from it. Information that is unfavorable to Facebook (or its advertisers) keeps getting censored out as well — including Warren’s campaign to break up Facebook’s monopoly.
Three of Warren’s ads were reportedly removed by Facebook, with a message saying the ads were deleted because they went “against Facebook’s advertising policies.” Warren took to Twitter to comment on the removal, saying this is an example of why her proposal is so sorely needed.