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In the New York Times article by Tiffany Hsu and Cecilia Kang entitled ‘Demands Grow

for Facebook to Explain Its Privacy Policies’, the authors provide a summary of the

details surrounding the recent events that have brought into question Facebook’s

treatment of user data, and the mounting requests from both the public and government

officials for Facebook to provide insight into the ethical standards of its business

practices.1 The purpose of this article, as I interpret it, is to paint a clear picture of how

serious a situation Facebook has found itself in. The authors cite that Facebook will be

subjected to a pending Federal Trade Commission investigation, calls from Senators for

Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress, and requests from more than 37 attorneys

general for Facebook to divulge details about their privacy safeguards when it comes to

the handling of user data.

Facebook was thrust back into the spotlight following a possible scandal that was

revealed by a whistleblower where Facebook had voluntarily or involuntarily allowed a

third party firm from the United Kingdom called Cambridge Analytica to obtain personal

data on more than 50 million Facebook users. This data was allegedly utilized in the

2016 election to give Trump the advantage, but proof of this has yet to be determined.

The Federal Trade Commission (F.T.C.) investigation revolves around determining if

Facebook had violated a 2011 consent decree with the intentional or unintentional

sharing of user information with Cambridge Analytica. Generally speaking, this consent

decree was established to protect Facebook user privacy, but it also set a penalty of

$40,000 per user per day for each violation of the decree. Therefore, if the F.T.C. finds

that Facebook was in violation of the decree with its Cambridge Analytica dealings then

the penalties would not be insignificant (50 million users X $40,000 per day). This news
did not sit well with investors and the stock began a sharp decline, steadily falling ever

since.

The article goes on to mention that Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica is

not the only hot water the social media behemoth has gotten itself into recently. The

company is currently involved in two lawsuits in the United States Court of Appeals for

the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Neither of these lawsuits are working in Facebook’s

favor. One is an accusation that they are in violation of the Electronic Communications

Privacy Act since it is alleged that the company monitors its users’ activities on and

offline. The second lawsuit alleges that Facebook collects and then sells data that was

collected on third party sites, such as The American Cancer Society. Essentially any

site with a certain type of Facebook “Like” button could be enabling Facebook to track

the visitors to these sites, collect their data, and then sell these data for a profit. In

addition to domestic lawsuits, Facebook has also been under heightened scrutiny and

has been brought on charges repeatedly for several years by European countries,

where the governments are much less lenient on privacy infractions and the misuse of

user data.

There is some pushback from the public about Facebook’s misgivings. The authors

mention the #deletefacebook movement and the fact that Elon Musk recently deleted

the Facebook accounts for both SpaceX and Tesla. However, Facebook is not the only

tech company that is facing hard times from a P.R. perspective. Companies such as

Google, Amazon, Twitter, and etc. are also in the government’s crosshairs. With

sweeping and severe privacy regulation going into effect in the E.U. in May (G.D.P.R.)

we will see how it impacts the behavior of these tech giants. These are global
companies after all. They can no longer hide behind the veil of lax U.S. law. Global

regulations like the one being enacted in the E.U. will affect these companies, and in

turn affect how their business practices are carried out here in the United States.

1 Hsu, Tiffany, and Cecilia Kang. "Demands Grow for Facebook to Explain Its Privacy

Policies." The New York Times. March 26,

2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/technology/ftc-facebook-investigation-

cambridge-analytica.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (accessed

April 4, 2018).

Thought Questions

1.) Knowing that Facebook has, at least once, intentionally or unintentionally leaked

private information on more than 50 million users to a third party company, are you

concerned with what Facebook and other companies like it do with your data? If so, has

this changed the way in which you use platforms such as Facebook?

2.) Why do you believe that we as users of the internet and internet platforms such as

Facebook are entitled to privacy when it comes to our data? If you do not believe that

we are entitled to internet privacy, then why not?