Facebook’s Hunger For Data Knows No Bounds

Like many in this first week of 2021, I got a policy update from Whatsapp. I want to state upfront that I am not the biggest fan of Facebook and especially not a Mark Zuckerberg fan. Like many in the tech community, I have serious concerns with several practices Facebook has engaged in. My concerns range from hostile acquisitions, security issues, broad range of ethical, social and political issues. 

Mark Zuckerberg has said rapidly to have underestimated the impact his company would have in society, as if the company itself is naïve about their capabilities. Yet he continues feeding his data hunger. Today marked a new breach of our rights to privacy and for me fear creeps in.

a screenshot of whatsapp's new privacy

Why Facebook Bought WhatsApp

“The question isn’t ‘what do we want to know about people?’. It’s ‘what do people want to tell about themselves?’”
Mark Zuckerberg
Founder of Facebook

Facebook has acquired 82 other companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp. The WhatsApp acquisition closed at a steep $19 billion; more than $40 per user of the platform. Facebook also purchased the defunct company ConnectU in a court settlement and acquired intellectual property formerly held by rival Friendster.

In February 2014, when Facebook purchased the messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion many thought Zuckerberg was crazy. But the truth is he knew exactly what he was doing. Confidential Facebook emails and charts show exactly why CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent so much money for the messaging app. For months, the company was tracking WhatsApp using Onavo, a VPN and data analytics app, whose data showed that the messaging app was not just a rising competitor, but a potential “Facebook killer”. My first question was “Is Mark really going to mine private data so he further feed his data hungry AI’s, increase his ads sells and increase his own power?”.  

Key Updates According to WhatsApp

Additional Information On How We Handle Your Data
Updated Terms and Privacy Policy provide more information on how data is processed, and commitment to privacy. Example, addition of more information about more recent product features and functionalities, how data is process for safety, security and integrity, and added more direct links to user settings, Help Center articles and how users can manage their information.

Better Communication With Businesses
Work with businesses that use Facebook or third parties to help store and better manage their communications with customers on WhatsApp.

Making It Easier To Connect
As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer experiences and integrations across Facebook’s family of apps and products.

Problems Facebook Faces

Mark has said not long ago to have not anticipated the impact his company would have on society and has yet to get a full grip on how the platform is being use by some and the consequences thereof. This concern was highlighted again with the attack on the Capitol Building in Washington DC and the role tech companies such as Facebook had in it. There is reactive risk management approach thate seems to indicate willful naiveness on the part of Facebook.

“It’s just impossible to foresee”

Zuckerberg has said that, at Facebook’s scale, AI is essential to remedy the unintended consequences of the company digitizing human relationships. But like any disruptive technology, AI creates unpredictable consequences of its own. Facebook’s director of AI, Joaquin Candela, said “It’s just impossible to foresee.”

Biases in their AI continue to be a big challenge for the company and more focus and resource is needed in this area. Their current AI is still bias prone. They continue to consume more and more data through their existing AI structure. 

Facebook and GDPR

In the past Facebook has tried to find loopholes and claim they are behaving legally and compliant with GDPR regulation. The DPC (Ireland) already had their concerns about data sharing between these two platforms. “We have this week sent a preliminary draft decision to WhatsApp Ireland Limited for their submissions which will be taken in to account by the DPC before preparing a draft decision in that matter also for Article 60 purposes,” said Doyle in a statement on that. “The inquiry into WhatsApp Ireland examines its compliance with Articles 12 to 14 of the GDPR in terms of transparency including in relation to transparency around what information is shared with Facebook” in May of 2020

Ethics

The company has a mixed response to Ethics. A demonstated lack of undertstanding of ethics related complaints and concerns is troubling. The tone deafness sometimes the company displays hasn’t helped their image with skeptics, me included.

Cambridge Analytica

Facebook has dealt with several security issue’s  that have effect millions of their users. By Facebook’s own words it was classified by them as a security breach even though it was an acceptable exchange of information between Facebook and a third party.

Cambridge Analytica was disclosed in 2018, but their shady practices started in 2015 when they found a way to exploit Facebook’s API to gain unauthorized access to millions of users personal information. Facebook has been developing a way to involve third party apps into their services, and their API allowed some applications to gather data of the users and all their friends. Cambridge Analytica created a ‘personality test app’ called “This is your digital life”, when in fact they scraped at least 87 million of users and their friends data.

A scale, holding a heavy-weighing heart shape and handshake symbol, and a lighter pile of money. Underneath: Business Ethics
vector drawing of a man with an angel and a devil on his shoulder

Eyes On It

Many are worried rightfully so about this new move. The effect of this can impact millions with WhatsApp projected 2.7 billion users for 2020 and 2.87 billion for 2021 and Facebook’s past behaviors makes this a very dangerous venture.

My confidence in Mark Zuckerberg is not high enough to trust him with this data. Because of this people like me are making a hard switch to apps like Signal. The Facebook Data Hungry Machine knows no rest and will continue to find many ways to get to what little privacy we have. A stand needs to be made and the tech community should call out Facebook in stronger terms for their way of conducting business.

None of us needs nor wants Mark Zuckerberg collecting vast amounts of data on us.

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