While Facebook’s been busy announcing new privacy and transparency features in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, they’ve also been forced to address a range of additional details that have been uncovered as part of the broader examination of the network's practices.
Among those previously unreported or lesser known disclosures have been:
- Facebook has been tracking details of SMS and call data on Android devices, and storing that info in its data banks
- Facebook’s been keeping videos user recorded but never posted
- Facebook representatives read private messages when they’re flagged for potential content violations
As noted, some of these details were already specified in Facebook’s various agreements and processes (the call data and SMS tracking, for example, is opt-in and explicitly communicated to users), but most users, it would seem, were largely unaware, and the wider coverage of such measures has added to the ongoing thread of distrust in The Social Network and its practices.
And a new discovery along similar lines certainly hasn’t helped.
Earlier this week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reported that Facebook had retracted messages which some users had received from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives. Essentially, Facebook has deleted previously sent messages from user inboxes, which regular users can’t do.
That seems like a shady practice, particularly considering regular users don’t have the same capacity. In response to this, Facebook acknowledged that such deletions have occurred, while also revealing that the functionality would be coming to all users in the near future.
The response reminded me somewhat of Kevin Spacey’s response to sexual harassment allegations, where Spacey seemingly attempted to deflect negative blowback by taking the opportunity to come out publicly. For Facebook, they were essentially caught out by users, but the company's tried to turn lemons into lemonade by using it as a coming feature roll-out – “see, all good, we all get the same things, no secrets here”.
In the broader scheme this would not appear to be a major misstep, but the timing is horrible, and it adds to the narrative that Facebook cares far more about the security of its own staff than it does of its users. Remember, Zuckerberg also tapes up his laptop camera, so he’s seemingly well aware of the potential security risks of his own creation. Now we know he can also delete old messages that could come back to haunt him.
Makes you wonder what other tools Facebook’s team employs.
In terms of additional functionality, the capacity to delete older messages will provide new ways to censor your Facebook presence – and likely new headaches for Facebook. But what else can they do? They’ve essentially been forced to address the issue by their own actions.
The positive is that it leads us towards a more transparent, open Social Network. The negative is that it only adds to questions about the company’s processes.
Can Facebook recover their public reputation in the wake of these mounting issues? Will that matter, and see people using The Social Network less as a result?
What is clear is that we still have a way to go, and likely more to come in similar revelations and transparency disclosures.