Time to end Facebook’s free pass
Even in the Wild West of online marketing, legitimate enterprises ask consumers to opt in or out of sharing their data.
But now, reporting by the Guardian and The New York Times reveals how online social media enterprises like Facebook leave open yawning back doors for marketers to obtain consumers’ personal data without their permission for its collection or use.
Cambridge Analytica, a British company, used data from an app developed by a Cambridge University researcher to glean the personal information and online habits of about 50 million U.S. consumers. It refined the data and sold it for political purposes, including to the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
This hijacking of consumers’ data came after Facebook opened its platform to app developers in 2011. That same year it signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission over misleading statements to users about app developers’ access to their data, and other matters.
Facebook says it instructed Cambridge Analytica in 2015 to destroy all of the data it had gathered via the app, calling it a serious breach of the company’s rules. But that follows a pattern of Facebook reacting after the fact to use of its platform for unauthorized purposes.
The objective must be to shield consumers from misuse of their data. The FTC is investigating the latest episode, but it relies on laws crafted for other consumer-related issues.
Congress should recognize that Facebook and similar platforms will not protect consumer data as long as there are no specific penalties for not doing so. It should make those sites accountable when they are used as a wide-open back door to consumers’ data.