Facebook is starting to feel a little grimy. Not only has it played fast and loose with users’ privacy, but it has played footsie with at least one foreign company that American intelligence officials have called a threat to national security. Anything for a buck has rarely looked so bad.
Unless it changes its ways soon, Facebook is on a path to a radical re-evaluation of its standing among millions of users, who will have to consider the question: Is it unpatriotic to use Facebook?
The social media giant has been behind the curve for years. First it denied any Russian influence in the 2016 election, despite warnings from Washington. Now, although it claims the scales have fallen from its eyes, it continues to tolerate misuse of its platform and the privacy of its users. And, it turns out, it’s making deals with at least one foreign company identified as a danger.
In fact, Facebook has data sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including one telecommunications equipment company that has been flagged as a threat. That company, Huawei, has a close relationship with China’s government. The arrangement with Huawei and three other companies dates to at least 2010.
Facebook’s acknowledgement of the arrangement was the second disturbing revelation regarding the social media company last week. A day earlier, Americans learned that the company had allowed dozens of hardware manufacturers access to its trove of personal user data.
The New York Times had revealed that Facebook had allowed data sharing with technology companies including Apple, Samsung and Amazon. In Europe, where governments have move aggressively to protect users’ privacy, authorities have called for further investigation of Facebook, which they were already viewing with suspicion.
Although U.S. governments have been slower to protect user privacy, there was at least some response, from a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and, in New York, from Attorney General Barbara Underwood who said her office would expand its investigation into Facebook.
That’s a start, but either through pressure or legislation, social media needs to be induced to change its ways regarding user privacy and – strange as it is to have to point this out – national security.
It is perhaps predictable that it took the revelation of egregious violations for governments to get serious about protecting the privacy to their constituents. Law always trails technology and given the speed of its advancement, the challenges are certain to be consistent and ongoing.
The test will be to protect users’ information without unduly hindering social media which, whatever its defects, has many advantages and is, in any case, here to stay.