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Facebook has a problem. On top of being a repository for ugly baby pictures, racist uncles, and a testing ground for Russian brainwashing, it is hemorrhaging users, has a slumping stock price, AND 2020 candidates are accusing it of operating a monopoly on social media. Then there's the FTC investigation, the DOJ's Cambridge Analytica investigation, and now federal prosecutors are investigating Facebook's secret trading of user data. Oh, and our notes say something ... hhmm ... Oh, Mark Zuckerberg might have lied to Congress. Oops.

The latest case Zuck seems to have caught appears related to a story the Times broke back in December, right around the time we were all busy being righteously pissed about Trump's baby jails and the looming government shutdown. The story is pretty simple: In order to rapidly grow its user base, Facebook traded access to its database of 2.2 BILLION users to phone companies, search engines, and other media platforms. Businesses got access to Facebook's treasure trove of shitposts and drunken selfies in exchange for letting Mark Zuckerberg wrap his tentacles around everything in the digital toilet we call the 21st Century. Per the Times from last December ...

Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform's expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners. The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.

Facebook couldn't exactly tell anyone they were essentially selling access to user data, nor could they straight-up sell user data like credit card companies without starting a riot. Instead, Facebook built a switchboard thingy to turn certain data points ("capabilities") on and off. Capabilities ranged from being able to read email addresses and view user feeds in real time, all the way up to reading, writing and deleting private messages. Apple struck a deal to give it overriding access to contact numbers and calendars, even if you opted out, and worked with Facebook to hide its snooping. Microsoft's Bing got access to religious affiliations from user profiles. Yandex, the Russian version of Google, even had a sweetheart deal to scrape user data through 2017, which they then shared with the Kremlin.

You may be wondering, "HOW IN THE HAMSTER DANCE IS THAT LEGAL?" The good news is that it's not, but Facebook did it anyway. Since 2011, Facebook has been bound by a consent decree with the FTC that says it has to keep user data private. It's OK if an app needs specific data to work, like your email address or profile access, as long as the app asks permission. But some hooded cyborgs inside Facebook found this really harshed Facebook's global domination vibe. Facebook's brass began to see their data sharing agreements as "partnerships" that fell into a legal grey area. The data sharing partners weren't bound to the same privacy rules, and nobody at Facebook bothered to check what capabilities their partners were using. And now we know why Facebook was SO SURPRISED when Cambridge Analytica was caught sucking up massive amounts of data for the Trump campaign.

Fun Fact: If Facebook is found to have violated the consent decree it faces a $40,000 fine per use per day for each user. Since these violations could span years, the fines could be in the billions, if not trillions of dollars. Mind you, the FTC is supposed to audit Facebook's compliance with the consent decree, but it doesn't have enough staff thanks to Republican budget cuts. Instead, they farm that out to a third-party. One of these audits happened while Cambridge Analytica was busy hoovering up your drunk rants about HER EMAILS. Obviously the audit didn't find anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

All this leads to a very interesting pickle for Mark Zuckerberg. Most of these data sharing agreements went away after people found out the Russians were scraping Facebook for the Trump campaign, but not all of them! Since some of these partnerships were still in place in the summer of 2018, it also raises questions as to whether Mark Zuckerberg lied to Congress last April when he said, "Every single time that you share something on Facebook or one of our services, right there is a control in line where you control who you want to share with," (see pages 49 and 50) or if the company lied when, two months later, it finally responded with bullshit answers to the 43 different questions Zuckerberg dodged in order to keep from perjuring himself. IF he lied, we're sure he's sorry.

[New York Times]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.

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