After Facebook’s recent data scandal, the public and lawmakers have urged the company to improve its data practices and make privacy more of a priority. As a result, Facebook has undergone a major executive reorganization. Most notably it created a new team focused solely on building privacy products.
Facebook’s New Privacy Team
Facebook’s privacy product team will include about 300 engineers, and will be run by David Baser. Baser has been with Facebook for almost eight years and most recently worked on helping Facebook comply with Europe’s new GDPR privacy regulations.
The first product from the new privacy team is called “Clear History”. It will let Facebook users “opt out of having Facebook collect and match their off-Facebook browsing history to their profile.” Without this feature the social network can link your browsing to your personal profile on any site that includes a Facebook tracker (a “Like” or “Share” button).
Facebook linking your browsing behavior to your social profile is a unique privacy issue. Google can link your searches to your Gmail account if you have one, but the people you email on a regular basis are probably quite different from the people you interact with casually on Facebook. Facebook has tons of data about your relationships, who you chat with online, and who you spend time with.
Google has a broader range of information, but Facebook’s data is very specific and perhaps more revealing.
Facebook’s Privacy Measures Seem Half-Hearted
Facebook made nearly $40 billion in advertising revenue in 2017, thanks to the data is uses to target its partners’ ads. This sum accounted for 98% of Facebook’s total revenue. Facebook adding more privacy features or products goes against the company’s core business model. By collecting more user data, it can target ads more specifically and charge more for them.
Privacy features go against this premise, and could do more harm than good if Facebook goes about adding them in the wrong way. Faulty or pointless privacy tools or features could give users the impression that their data is safe, when it really is not. If they are more willing to share information because they believe it is private, their data could be even more vulnerable than before.
Facebook’s Privacy Team is Secondary To It’s Main Business
While we should probably be happy that Facebook is doing anything to add privacy to its products, but we’re skeptical until it’s put into practice.
Sheera Frenkel said in this New York Times article:
One new group will focus on Facebook’s key products, including the social network itself, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, all of which generate the most revenue for the company. The second will concentrate on emerging technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The third will be centered on ads, personnel, security and growth.
If Facebook truly wants to get rid of its many privacy issues, it needs to fully integrate privacy into its products. This can’t be done by simply adding secondary features to the existing products. Facebook needs to make its products private by design, with end-to-end data security.
GDPR & Facebook Privacy
GDPR may be the catalyst Facebook needed to adopt better privacy practices. Unfortunately these don’t apply to non-EU citizens, so users outside the EU may not receive the same protections as those in Europe. US regulations protect Americans’ financial data, but not their personal data. That isn’t to say regulations aren’t out of the picture in the United States.