I wrote a paper about Facebook this summer, for the Business Ethics course that I took. We had to choose a current ethical issue in the news, and apply the ethical theories we had learned to it. I found an article from the New York Times, and used that as the foundation for the paper. The article is called, Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends and was published on June 26. Here is part of what I wrote:
Facebook was in the news again for privacy violations and for possibly violating an order from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) set in 2011. At that time, the FTC ordered Facebook to do a number of things, most notably to inform users when it shares their nonpublic information to “any third party” when such sharing exceeds the privacy restrictions set by the user.
In 2014, Cambridge Analytica (CA), a UK based political consulting firm, acquired and misused private information of millions of Facebook users. Facebook learned of this in 2015, but the story broke in late March of this year. Facebook claims that CA was cutoff in 2015, when it learned of the problem and prohibited developers from collecting information about users’ friends. The current problem is, however, that Facebook made a distinction between developers and device manufacturers—developers were cut off from the data, but device manufacturers were not. Facebook said that, unlike developers, it views device manufacturers as “extensions of Facebook.” Privacy activists are not persuaded that this distinction matters, they argue that Facebook is not in compliance with the FTC order, and some have demonstrated that even device manufacturers have inappropriate access to private data. For example, reporters from the New York Times were able to use a Blackberry device to retrieve user data that, even according to Facebook, was not supposed to be publicly accessible…
At this section of the paper, I apply the ethical theories in a point by point manner, to show that Facebook is not acting in an ethical manner pretty much no matter which theory is applied. I conclude with these remarks:
With respect to how it handles its users’ nonpublic information, it seems clear that Facebook has a systemic problem on its hands. It has been slow and reluctant to identify and address the problem, preferring instead to push boundaries and ask forgiveness after violations have been revealed to the public. Facebook started well but is turning out to be like a bad boyfriend, abusive and belligerent. It might be better to get away than to stay, hoping for a change.
Now I just saw that Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, Alex Stamos, is leaving this month. Nobody is going to replace him. That just doesn’t look good. Even given what I said in the paper, I am still shaking my head in disbelief.
Are you on Facebook? Are you happy with it? What do you make of the privacy issues that keep arising?