Facebook: protecting online privacy

Technology companies have an obligation to protect user data

A user accesses social media on her cellphone.
A user accesses social media on her cellphone.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

The scandal over the fraudulent use of 50 million Facebook users’ personal data has placed the all-powerful tech company in a tight spot that could seriously harm its reputation – a reputation already eroded by its role in circulating fake news. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to mistakes, but his explanations have not satisfied the financial markets or mitigated the understandable indignation of millions of people after they learned that a British company named Cambridge Analytica used millions of profiles without consent to benefit the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Privacy is comparable to other fundamental rights

Watching over user privacy and protecting their information is one of Facebook’s unavoidable duties, as it is in general for companies like Google, Amazon, YouTube and Twitter, whose powerful servers store vast amounts of personal information. That information is the pillar of their business model. Their algorithms process people’s online habits and later serve them with personalized ads. A perverse use of this stream of data can agitate street protests, manipulate public opinion on controversial subjects, and incite citizens to vote for a specific candidate, thereby attacking the essence of democracy.

The suspicions regarding Facebook’s ability to influence politics are serious, and if it really hopes to gain back user trust, the company should direct its efforts at dispelling those accusations. Facebook, which has designed firewalls against fake online news and established mechanisms to identify reliable outlets, also has a responsibility to increase its control over political advertising, even if this means losing a (minimal) amount of its advertising revenues.

It is undeniable that tech companies have helped build a more open, connected world

It is undeniable that tech companies have helped build a more open, connected world. They are an engine of globalization. But the scandal over the data flight through the British firm evidences the fragility and vulnerability of the internet when it comes to the custody of millions of profiles. Users have the right to know how their information is being used, what risks they are incurring, and what protection patches are being applied on cracks like those evidenced at Facebook.

In order to win back the trust of the two billion people who have signed up to Facebook, the company must provide detailed and convincing explanations. The US Administration, the British Parliament and the European Parliament are asking Zuckerberg for conclusive answers and efficient measures. Like EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani said, he needs to clear up before the representatives of 500 million citizens that personal data was not used to manipulate democracy. Privacy is comparable to other fundamental rights such as honor, and it must be preserved with the same firmness.

English version by Susana Urra.

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