As the fallout continues from recent news reports detailing how Facebook enabled "digital warfare" based on its users' personal data, Google is also facing heat for the vast troves of information it collects about people.
Earlier this month, revelations emerged about Facebook's role in making it possible for the U.K.-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to strategically target U.S. voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Cambridge Analytica worked for then-candidate and now-President Donald Trump.
The Observer and The New York Times have reported that the firm used data about at least 50 million Facebook users and their friends without their knowledge after wrongfully acquiring that information through a third-party app.
In the wake of those reports, Facebook has announced several changes to how it manages privacy and works with third-party app developers. Meanwhile, a report in The Guardian today revealed that Google also gathers details about users that go "far beyond what many of us could imagine."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been asked to testify before several U.S. Congressional committees, and similar invitations have gone out to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
'More Work To Do'
Facebook said in a news post yesterday that it was time to make their privacy tools easier to find. "Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data," wrote vice president and chief privacy officer Erin Egan and vice president and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer.
They said the company has updated its mobile device settings menu, added new privacy shortcuts, and created a new tool called "Access Your Information" to enable users to view and delete any data from their timelines or profiles. Egan and Beringer said the social media site will also be updating its terms of service and data policy, and will have more to share in the coming weeks.
On Monday, Facebook also announced changes to its platform for developers, including a pause to its review of new third-party apps and "heightened terms" for business-to-business applications. And yesterday, Facebook said it would no longer work with data brokers, such as Acxiom and Experia, that have in the past provided targeting information about consumers to Facebook advertisers.
Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it is conducting an open non-public investigation into Facebook's privacy practices.
'We Did It Ourselves'
In the meantime, Google's privacy practices came under the spotlight today following an in-depth report in The Guardian by Web developer Dylan Curran. That article provided details about Facebook's data collection as well as on the information that Google collects about its users' locations, search histories, app usage, YouTube viewing habits, calendar entries, emails, bookmarks, and much more.
"This is one of the craziest things about the modern age," Curran said. "We would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us. But we just went ahead and did it ourselves because -- to hell with it! -- I want to watch cute dog videos."
Given such developments, it's little surprise that Facebook is reported to have delayed the debut of its new intelligent home speakers, which were set to be unveiled at the company's F8 developer conference in May.
Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and associate at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, noted in The New York Times yesterday that such privacy issues reflect a broader problem with the business models of tech companies.
"Zuck promised easier, better privacy controls 'in the coming weeks' eight years ago," Tufekci wrote on Twitter. "This isn't the first or last broken promise. The solution isn't shifting the burden to the user because the problem is the negative externalities of the business model."
Image credit: iStock/Artist's concept.
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