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Facebook: The Data Breach

Facebook: The Data Breach

by Jessica Horwitch


Zuckerberg speaking to senators.


Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee declared that “while Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured.”

In the past several decades, the internet has enveloped the world. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and many others provide millions with various ways to communicate. Recently, a report by Common Sense Media revealed that teens in the United States alone spend up to  nine hours a day on such platforms. While pediatricians are concerned about social media’s influence on teens, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, believes that his company promotes positive interactions, “we (Facebook) should give people a voice.”

Zuckerberg’s confidence in his company is evident, but he appeared to lose trust after it was revealed that Facebook  shared 87 million users’ private information with Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm. The information was collected through an app created in 2013 that invited people to take a personality quiz. As users took the quiz, the app gathered data from friends of the quiz takers. While the breach violated Facebook’s policies, it raised public scrutiny over privacy and security on the social media site.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica 

Further inquiry into the data breach revealed that Cambridge Analytica has ties to former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and Republican donor Robert Mercer. The firm was heavily involved in the 2016 presidential election, as it worked initially with Senator Ted Cruz and later with the Trump campaign. However, the firm denied that the company provided any “polling, data analytics, and digital marketing for the Trump campaign.” 

The data breach may have only affected Facebook users, but the company also owns three of the top ten mobile apps used in the US (according to comScore): Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. The fact that Facebook was unaware of the data breach for five years raises concerns about the privacy and security policies of its other social media platforms.                                                        In fact, many media companies like Facebook could be considered monopolies. Google owns YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Play, and Gmail. If a data breach affects one of its platforms, questions could be raised about the regulations of its other platforms.

How does the government hold these companies responsible? In the May 2018 congressional hearings for the Cambridge Analytica data breach, another question was raised: can the government regulate companies like Facebook? Congress struggled to  first define what Facebook is. The categorization of the company is largely significant. For instance, if Facebook is considered a telecommunications service it can be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Zuckerberg even explained that Facebook is not a software company                      despite creating software.

“I consider us to be a technology company,” Zuckerberg answered. “The primary thing we do is have engineers that write code and build services for other people.” (on the right: Zuckerberg is pictured addressing Congress)

While the US is still deciding how to hold Facebook accountable, nations like the European Union have already passed legislation to regulate social media companies. The E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows, among other things, for people to obtain a copy of the records that companies hold about them. The law additionally requires companies like Google and Facebook to use clear language to explain their intent and usage of their users’ personal details. Companies must also provide information about who will use the data.

The GDPR will hopefully serve as an example for other countries who have yet to pass legislation that protects their citizens. Data collection and sharing is a serious matter that breaches the trust of social media users. Both the government and social media companies have an obligation to regulate their content and protect their constituents and users.

In fact, during the congressional hearings Zuckerberg stated, “Do we have a responsibility for the content people share on Facebook? I think the answer to that question is yes.”

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