From the Viewsroom

It’s simply ‘wrong’, Facebook

Mohini Chandola | Updated on September 18, 2019 Published on September 18, 2019

Facebook’s specious claim on user privacy was rightly rejected

US District Judge Vince Chhabria’s pushback last week to a Facebook argument on privacy makes for a larger debate about privacy on social media platforms. In the lawsuit, filed by users who seek damages from the social media giant for harvesting data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook initially claimed it was misled into selling data to a Russian data firm. The company then switched stance and asserted that there was “no tangible harm” done.

In fact, the argument is worth repeating in its entirety just to get the full measure of its outrageous import. “There is no privacy interest, because by sharing with a hundred friends on a social media platform, which is an affirmative private information with a hundred people, you have just, under centuries of common law, under the judgement of Congress, under the SCA, negated any reasonable expectation of privacy,” Facebook argued.

Effectively, what Facebook is arguing is that a user forfeits his right to privacy by the mere act of sharing a post with his friends. It is unethical and, to use Judge Chhabria’s terminology, simply “wrong” to claim that data shared with limited audience of close friends is the same as sharing it with the virtually unlimited cyberspace.

The Judge rightly rejected the company’s scandalous argument and ordered Facebook Inc to face the lawsuit. Further proceedings may hold Facebook accountable for getting unauthorised access to calls and messages — even though it claims it doesn’t know the content — which can be pieced together and passed on to wholly undesirable targets. It is a dangerous possibility Facebook has simply refused to admit.

The ruling requires Facebook to disclose internal records, documents and email threads which are expected to accelerate the case. The proceedings have thus far also established that Zuckerberg’s assurances last year at the US Senate to strengthen privacy and rework existing policies were simply a case of prevarication. Thankfully, the days of such obfuscation are now over, with the case having snowballed into a major issue involving several countries. Facebook needs to now at least admit and compensate for the practices that allowed a third party to trick users into giving up confidential data through a ‘harmless’ quiz and influenced their voting patterns.

The author is a Sub Editor at The Hindu BusinessLine

Published on September 18, 2019
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