- Facebook has been slammed with a record $5 billion penalty over its handling of user data following the Cambridge Analytica breach in 2018 that affected 30 million users.
- The social media company has been buried in scandals over the last two years, from misappropriating user’s data, to its roles in spreading hate speech and Russian propaganda.
- Most users haven’t deleted Facebook, but these events have forced the tech giant to reevaluate its focus and future approach to privacy.
- Watch the video above to see how everything unfolded since Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Alex Appolonia: Ah yes, Facebook. It’s no secret this tech giant has had a tough two years lurching from scandal to scandal. Like when the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had misappropriated tens of millions of users’ data or when a hack affected 30 million users, not to mention the social network’s role in spreading hate speech, misinformation, and Russian propaganda. This goes to show that what’s been happening behind closed doors hasn’t stayed there. But at the same time, Facebook’s constant crises haven’t really hurt the company’s bottom line. So what’s going on with Facebook?
Mark Zuckerberg: I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now to put it lightly.
Alex Appolonia: If we look back at Facebook in 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg founded it, it’s clear that they’ve come a long way, connecting billions of people all around the world. But they’ve prioritized growing their user base, revenue, and profits and sometimes lost track of the possible consequences. And only now, 10 to 15 years later, are we seeing the impact.
Rob Price: By all accounts, the company is still a cash-printing machine. It’s seen significant growth. It’s making billions of dollars in profit every single quarter, and the stock wallet is not at the same all-time high as it once was. It’s still doing very, very well.
Alex Appolonia: Well, that’s the good news. Let’s backtrack, shall we? Facebook really started facing more scrutiny in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election when it emerged that Russia had used the platform to spread propaganda.
In 2017, Facebook was criticized for its slow response after the social network was used to spread hate speech that helped fuel genocide in Myanmar. Following this, in March 2018, Cambridge Analytica, a political firm, had misappropriated data of 87 million users. They did this not by hacking Facebook but by buying the data from a researcher who had taken advantage of Facebook’s lax rules, harvesting tens of millions of users’ data using a viral personality quiz. It was pretty obvious that Facebook’s protection on users’ data wasn’t up to par. Things continued to snowball after Cambridge Analytica.
In September 2018, there was a string of privacy scandals where the personal data of 30 million users was hacked. Since then, the company also discovered that hundreds of millions of users’ passwords are being stored in plain text. That means no encryption, which is a massive security misstep. And Facebook’s response to the scandals hasn’t helped either. A public relations firm hired by Facebook tried to smear the company’s critics by linking them to Jewish investor George Soros, an attack that fed into far-right conspiracy theories and was criticized as anti-Semitic.
Then, in 2019, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook over allegations of housing discrimination. So what do people think of it all? Interestingly, it’s not enough to get them to stop using the social network. Not only is the Facebook app getting a major all-white redesign and focusing more on groups, it’s also making changes that it claims represent a pivot to privacy.
Mark Zuckerberg: So that’s why I believe that the future is private. This is the next chapter for our services.
Rob Price: It is encrypting its messaging apps, Messenger and Instagram DMs. And what it says will help protect users adhere to privacy. Interestingly, this won’t actually affect the amount of data Facebook collects on any of its users, and it will still be able to target you with all the same advertisers, and will still know everything the same about you.
Alex Appolonia: Also in the works, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram will allow users to send messages between each app, but this is drawing more criticism from those who view Facebook as a monopoly. Having everything combined could make it harder to spin off its apps if antitrust action is ever taken against it.
In the meantime, the social network is preparing for a fine of $3 to $5 billion. It would be a record fine for an FTC settlement. So where does Zuckerberg stand in all of this?
Despite all of the scandals, Zuckerberg has total control. He’s in such a powerful position as the majority shareholder, so the rest of the shareholders can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. So it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.
Rob Price: The company now claims that it can change and it will change. It’s promising that it’s fundamentally reorienting the company. In a way that it’s never done before. And this is one of the most, if not the most important shifts in its history.
Alex Appolonia: Well, only time will tell whether Zuckerberg can pull this off. Hopefully no more bumps in the road.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on May 28, 2019.