By Caroline Mathews, Trending Writer
In a 2010 interview with TechCrunch, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed privacy was no longer a “social norm.” While controversial, and seemingly invasive, changes in Facebook’s privacy settings over the following years coincide with Zuckerberg’s privacy beliefs. Recent public outrage shows that privacy does matter to most individuals.
On Wednesday, April 4th, Facebook announced that “malicious actors” used search tools on its platform—of which there are 2 billion users worldwide—to discover the identities and to collect information of users. Unfortunately, this announcement is not particularly shocking—especially not after the announcements that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy hired by Trump and other members of the GOP, inappropriately gathered detailed information on 87 million nonconsenting people—71 million of whom are Americans—on the platform.
Further deepening concerns, the misuse of Facebook’s search tools—which have now been disabled—appears to be much more widespread and continuously over the course of several years. “Malicious actors” harvested email addresses and phone numbers on the Deep Web where hackers used automated programs to input numbers and addresses into the website’s “search” box. These searches often pulled-up full names of people affiliated with the phone numbers or addresses, along any other public information on the user’s page (e.g. a hometown or profile picture). It is important to note, however, that Facebook users could have blocked this search function—which is turned on by default—by changing their privacy settings. Unfortunately, research has consistently shown that users seldom adjust privacy settings, which may be correlated with a lack of understanding of what personal information is being shared and the potential consequences. Furthermore, company officials admitted that few Facebook users are likely to be unscathed by the “sophisticated” scam.
In wake of the privacy scandals and public displeasure (and a large drop in stock pricing), Facebook has announced it will be simplifying and centralizing privacy settings in hope to make it easier for users to change how much personal information they want—or do not want—shared. While this is an important step in the right direction, many Americans are now calling upon Congress to adopt more modern and comprehensive privacy laws.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 10th print edition.
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