Is Your Facebook Profile Safe?


Sydney Teh

Alex Stolarz ’19 and Tate McClean ’19 have strong opinions regarding Zuckerberg’s Congressional appearance.

Facebook users across the world were shocked in early April 2018 by reports that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, would appear in front of Congress after the company was accused of selling user information to Cambridge Analytica, a political firm, without the knowledge or consent of Facebook users.

Cambridge Analytica was hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign to identify characteristics of American voters in order to further influence their behavior and political opinions. It was funded mostly by wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer and former advisor to the president, Stephen Bannon. The data Cambridge Analytica obtained, which was analyzed by ‘The New York Times’ in March of 2018, tracked the friend networks and ‘likes’ of a user, mapping personality traits based on the trends.

Facebook attempted to portray this incident as an abuse of privilege by Cambridge Analytica rather than a security breach. Paul Grewal, Facebook’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, explained that Facebook had routinely allowed researchers to have access to data for academic purposes but that the selling or usage of data “to any ad network, data broker or other advertising or monetization-related service” was prohibited.

Cambridge Analytica claimed that the company had acquired the information they were accused of misusing but had since deleted it. They also stated that it was not the company, but Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American professor of psychology at Cambridge University, who had violated Facebook’s policy.

Following these claims, Congress wanted the truth on the ability of Facebook to abuse its users’ data for purposes other than social networking. Zuckerberg was ordered to appear before a joint session of the Senate’s Judiciary and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees.

Bronx Science is no stranger to Facebook, as it is the social media platform most utilized to exchange messages, host events, and share personal pictures. The thought of private information being used for profit and political gain was startling to most of the student body.

During the hearings, Zuckerberg iterated the claim that Facebook users own their data and thus have “complete control” over the information that Facebook has about them. However, the way in which Congress approached the hearings was greatly criticized as many felt they did not target the key issues that worried many Americans.

“Congress was not asking good questions during the hearing. They did not ask any specific questions about how information given under privacy contract was leaked,” said Tate McClean ’19.

Others were still suspicious of Zuckerberg.

“While Zuckerberg answered the questions honestly, there were obviously some secrets that he was holding back – strategically avoiding questions,” said Alex Stolarz ’19.

However, Zuckerberg did admit to a few faults of Facebook. The company’s mistakes included enabling Russian interference during the election through unverified advertisements and pages and allowing almost as many as eighty-seven million users’ personal data to be used by Cambridge Analytica.

By the end of the hearing, Zuckerberg promised to increase transparency on Facebook and make it clear to users where their information would be broadcast. They are now requiring that political advertisers and any advertising agency trying to purchase “issue” ads must be verified before their ads are posted.

Despite these promises, many students are skeptical that  any change will occur.

“While Zuckerberg answered the questions honestly, there were obviously some secrets that he was holding back – strategically avoiding questions,” said Alex Stolarz ’19.

Daniel Iskhakov ’19 thinks that Zuckerberg will get a public relations boost from attempting to work with Congress on privacy issues and that Congress will appear as if they are making reform while no real progress is made. “They either don’t change anything or pass some meaningless piece of legislation that will not change the way that user data is systematically mined and sold to advertisers. The saying ‘If you’re not paying, you’re the product,’ exists for a reason. The entire Facebook business model is based on gaining profits from selling user data on a massive scale,” Iskhakov said.

Jessica Wang ’18 explained that the hearings would not change anything because, “Zuckerberg holds 87 percent of Facebook voting shares anyway. His vote alone can override an entire decision.”

Regardless of what, if any, progress is made regarding Facebook and related legislation, this incident serves as a reminder to all to be cautious of what you post online.