Facebook Gets Thumbs Down For Latest Data Sharing Revelation

Facebook, the Moby Dick of social media behemoths, continues to take harpoons from Washington over its treatment of user data.

In the wake of a New York Times story about Facebook's sharing of users' personal information, in this case with other tech leviathans like Microsoft and Amazon, there was immediate criticism from groups tiring of the parade of stories of the social media giant's failure to sufficiently protect user privacy, with some calling for Congress to step in.

"This is a make-or-break moment for the FTC," said Sarah Miller, chair of Freedom From Facebook, a group that has long argued the social media site was too powerful and too fast and loose with user data and should be brought up short or broken up. "The flagrancy with which Facebook has flouted its consent decree shows it doesn't take the agency seriously. The idea that Facebook should be broken up, or never allowed to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp, has gone mainstream. If the FTC wants to be taken seriously again—not only by corporations but by the public, on whose behalf it is expected to work—the FTC can't allow Facebook's monopoly to continue to exist."

But the hard-line Facebook foe was hardly the only group unhappy with the company.

“If these allegations are true, Facebook violated users' trust and likely the FTC's consent decree," said Public Knowledge policy counsel Charlotte Slaiman. "Together with the recent revelations from the UK Parliament, yesterday's N.Y. Times story paints a picture that's becoming clearer and clearer: Facebook apparently recognized the very high value of this private user data, traded it freely to curry favor with other powerful tech giants, and may have even withheld data strategically from potential competitors.

“The FTC should consider this in their current investigation of Facebook, making sure to craft remedies that will protect users’ private personal data as well as fostering competition both on and off the platform. But perhaps more importantly, Congress must take up the issue of the power of digital platforms in the coming year. The soft touch, self-regulation approach to this industry is far past its expiration date.”

"The latest development on Facebook allowing third parties to access personal user data follows a pattern of behavior that we are starting to see far too often ---- dishonesty, followed by apologies and paper-thin promises to change," said an obviously unhappy Rashad Robinson, president of civil rights group Color of Change. He said his group has been "steadfast" in its demands for transparency and "the need for safety for Black people and people from marginalized communities. Facebook cannot be trusted to self-regulate. In order to address Facebook’s systemic failures, including rampant voter suppression and other civil rights concerns, urgent action must be taken by Congressional leaders and the Federal Trade Commission to implement the recommendations of civil rights organizations."

"It appears that Facebook is ending 2018 the way it spent much of the year: embroiled in controversy," said Dan Goldstein, president of digital marketing agency Page 1 Solutions. "These revelations undercut Facebook's claims that its privacy issues are the result of security oversight or the efforts of malicious third parties. If the news is true, it essentially confirms what critics of Facebook have been saying all along: Facebook cares much more about its bottom line than the security and privacy of its users."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.