← back Explainer

Georgia Iacovou

How Facebook Have Built Up Your Trust Over The Years

20 Mar 2019

How Facebook Have Built Up Your Trust Over The Years

20 Mar 2019

Joke’s on you: turns out they haven’t done that at all…

Great so now you have the below list ready to pull out should you forget about the shadowy aura of mistrust Mark Zuckerberg has slathered all over the internet in the last 15 years. Click on any of the below to skip to your favourite year…

2006: Introduction of the newsfeed

2007: The Facebook Beacon

2008: You can’t actually delete your account…

2009: Important changes made to privacy settings

2010: Many, many user IDs leaked

2011: Facebook settles FTC privacy charges

2012: Your ‘real name’ seems made up, are you foreign?

2013: Emails and phone numbers stored along side user information

2014: Facebook experiments on users, users become either happy or sad

2015: Facebook even shares your friend’s data with third parties

2016: Time to dabble in election manipulation, yaaaaay.

2017: Facebook enabled discriminatory targeted ads.

2018: Facebook fully suck the privacy out of everything

2019: In present day, Facebook finally talk about being more private, somehow


2006

Introduction of the newsfeed

I don’t know how old you are but during the first two years of Facebook, there was no such thing as a newsfeed. In these archaic times, when we were still writing manuscripts by candlelight and cholera was a genuine concern, the way Facebook worked was with individual newsfeeds (or ‘the wall’. That’s what I called it anyway).

Essentially, if you posted a status, it was not broadcasted to all of your friends. It remained on your wall (within your profile page). If a friend wanted to see your latest posts, they would specifically have to visit your profile. This meant the nature of people’s posts were different - more private and intimate.

Suddenly, the newsfeed exists and all that quite personal stuff you were writing on your wall is broadcast for everyone to see. Haha, neat joke Zuckerberg. Except it’s not a joke and this is your life now. There were protests and planned boycotts over this.

What Zuckerberg said: “Guys just relax it’s cool you still have the same level of privacy it’s just a new feature let’s all just breathe”

Okay but… you introduced this very radical new feature without saying anything and now everyone is quite affronted. Missing the point, as usual, Zuck.

2007

The Facebook Beacon

So you are a normal Facebook user, going about your day, buying tickets to a show and maybe booking flights for your next holiday. Damn, what’s that creepy sound? Oh yes it’s the sound of your activity on other websites being posted to your Facebook feed without your consent.

Ah, casual intrusions on my everyday life, such fun. Not sure if anyone remembers this, but it did happen. It was especially obvious because this was when Facebook had that live feed on the right hand side, constantly updating itself. You’d see stupid, unimportant information like ‘Emily is listening to Californication on Spotify!’. Oh wow GREAT. So glad that I am aware that this is exactly what Emily is doing on Spotify RIGHT NOW. Meanwhile, Emily probably had no idea.

So Facebook, again without asking or making it clear, shared your profile with loads of companies.

What Zuckerberg said (taken from his blog post at the time): “It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the web”, and he wanted it so that “people wouldn’t have to touch it to work.”

No mate, that’s just another way of saying “uh yeah we just didn’t want people to realise it was happening…”.

Zuckerberg, about a month later, then said that you can opt-out of the Beacon thing if you want. Right so… the original intention was to give no choice at all, and now the choice you give is to opt-out? Excellent.

2008

You can’t actually delete your account…

So in 2008 if you tried to delete your account, it would look deleted. But then if you reactivated it, all the info would still be there as if you never even pressed a delete button.

I thought delete meant delete? Ha, what a ludicrous notion. In the age of technology (Facebook), words lose all meaning and trust goes out the window. If you actually wanted to delete your information from Facebook, you had to remove info from fields manually, or even email Facebook just to make extra sure that the really simple and straightforward thing that you wanted to do was actually done.

Even then, anything you delete “may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time”. Ah good. Facebook are always reasonable, aren’t they?

What Zuckerberg said: [deafening silence].

Cool, cool…

2009

Important changes made to privacy settings

This move became ‘classic Facebook’ in my mind: saying as much to reassure the greater public, while exploiting them even harder and faster.

After this cool privacy revamp you had the option to use Facebook’s ‘recommended’ privacy settings. This sneaky use of language soon became part of the internet’s everyday vocabulary. Essentially, with ‘recommended’ settings, Facebook would get exactly what they wanted while making you think you were the one in control.

So, before these recommended settings came about, the default was that if you shared content on Facebook, it would be visible to only your friends and network. With these shiny new highly recommended settings, anything you post on Facebook would be visible to everyone. As in, the public. As in… anyone on the internet can see it, if they want.

What Zuckerberg said: “Guys if we’re just more public and open with each other about every move we make, we’ll have a richer web which is democratically controlled by all the people sharing things instead of living under some centralised power. Just keep sharing your information and you’ll see how great it can be, seriously.”

Oh seriously? Okay. Because you are Facebook, and ten years on you are now most definitely a centralised power. So I guess that didn’t quite pan out.

Zuckerberg’s comments on this move are actually fascinating, this Wired article covers it.

2010

Many, many user IDs leaked

Those ‘recommended settings’ from 2009 finally get their time to shine here. The user IDs of private profiles were being made available to third parties via many Facebook apps. For those who don’t know, a user ID is a number that would identify your Facebook profile without the need for a name.

How and why did this happen? Well, the how is a genuine (and embarrassing) oversight on Facebook’s part. User IDs should not be this easy to get to - so that bit is a technical glitch. The other part of the ‘how’ is a very on purpose non-glitch: you shouldn’t be able to extract any personal information from a user ID, but that depends entirely on the user’s privacy settings. If, like most Facebook users, yours were set to default (you know… ‘recommended’), this meant you had implicitly consented to the sharing of your personal info with third parties.

So that leads us to why this happened: sweet delicious ad revenue, of course.

*What Zuckerberg said:** “sorry I’m on a holiday with all my money”

*He did not actually say this, or anything like this. That would be really embarrassing…

2011

Facebook settles FTC privacy charges

Yes, overall a good thing, but as usual nothing seems to change. The FTC say that Facebook must undergo a privacy evaluation every 2 years and pay $16,000 a day for each count of the settlement they violate. Wow, 16k. That’s SO much money for a billion dollar company…

The settlement was obviously over all that crap from 2009 and 2010. Facebook basically said “look we value your privacy more than ever now, just look at these cool new privacy settings” and then, almost immediately, violated the privacy of millions of users.

What Zuckerberg said: “Guys like I’ve always said we value your privacy over anything and dammit I think we have a good track record of demonstrating this, don’t you??”

In case you think all these italicised quotes are entirely fictional, please see this is direct quote from a post he made in 2011:

“Overall, I think we have a good history of providing transparency and control over who can see your information.” Mark Zuckerberg

Oh, okay.

2012

Your ‘real name’ seems made up, are you foreign?

Facebook started employing a ‘real-name system’ in order to tackle fake accounts. They wanted all Facebook accounts to be real people, which makes sense and is fair enough.

Shocking revelation: it didn’t work.

First of all, the system was absolutely no good at detecting what a real name was and a fake name was. Because (drum roll) it was racist and sexist. So for instance, an Oklahoman member of the Kiowa tribe got kicked his account locked because they thought his real name, Shane Creepingbear, was a fake name. Check this wiki article for more examples of this happening.

Second of all, whether the real-name system worked or not, the option of using an alias was important to many people on Facebook. What if you’re fleeing from domestic abuse? Or what if you’re a whistleblower? An activist? Or a member of the LGBT community living in a country where who you are is criminalised?

None of this seemed to cross Zuckerberg’s mind. This stupid system didn’t get removed until 2015.

What Zuckerberg said: “We just want it so that you always know EXACTLY who you’re talking to because a complete lack of anonymity is the same thing as warm cuddly friendship, but on a global scale, you know?”

2013

Emails and phone numbers stored along side user information

Information that identifies you + your actual contact information = that’s none of your business, Facebook.

What we have here is a bug that affected those who chose to ‘import contacts into Facebook’. The people who added Facebook friends with this method (who are you? I’ve never been compelled to click that button), had their emails and phone numbers stored along side their actual profile information.

This is obviously a massive security problem on a whole other level. Facebook don’t have ‘security breaches’ because they basically just don’t have security…

What Zuckerberg said: “Oh umm… yeah oops, my bad”

2014

Facebook experiments on users, users become either happy or sad

This is when Facebook decided to run a data science experiment without telling anyone it was happening. Over half a million users were either exposed to more positive posts on their feeds, or more negative posts. This was to see how much of an influence this would have on people’s moods.

Not surprisingly, the ones exposed to more negative posts became sadder and the ones exposed to positive posts were happier. This was reflected in the posts they made themselves.

Once again, Facebook did that thing where they deceived their users, and operated in this weird ethical grey area. When did they ask users if they were okay with being experimented on? Oh they did… you agreed to this experiment when you signed up to Facebook and agreed to the terms of service, possibly years before this experiment was even conceived.

What the data scientist behind this said: “I didn’t think that people would really mind this experiment but now that I’ve heard about all this public outrage I can see why some people may have had a problem with it.

I wonder… if your were in the negative newsfeed group, how likely is it that you flat out stopped using Facebook because it was so sad? What other things do people tend to do when they are really sad and they just want it to stop?

2015

Facebook even shares your friend’s data with third parties

So here is where we all discovered that when you download and use and app and say ‘sure use my info from my Facebook profile’, that you were saying your friend list and their info was also fair game.

So sneaky, but a great way for the company to make more money, I guess? Yep. Anyway, it was in this year that Facebook decided to put a stop to this. Of course, there was no way of them stopping third party app developers from using data they already had. Wow, all that power with so little control.

What Zuckerberg said: “If people don’t feel comfortable, we don’t have a platform”

Untrue because you totally do still have a platform.

2016

Time to dabble in election manipulation, yaaaaay.

It’s possible you know about this already, but basically Facebook shared the data of millions of users with Cambridge Analytica, a strategic communications firm, who in turn were then able to create a large number of extremely effective targeted ads.

These ads were very pro Trump and very pro Brexit. They targeted exactly the right people who were possibly on the fence and possibly already leaning towards one side. This happened in 2016, but no one really found out until early 2018.

What Zuckerberg said (two years later): “Oh crap this seems serious we really weren’t prepared for this…”

Really? Even though you worked with the likes of Cambridge Analytica entirely on purpose and you already have an incredibly powerful platform that people love to advertise on?

2017

Facebook enabled discriminatory targeted ads.

Okay imagine you’re a real estate agent and you want to create a Facebook ad. You make your cool ad which says ‘These houses on the market are really nice you should totally live in them’. Then, before you send your ad out into the Facebook universe, you check a bunch of boxes that say ‘don’t show this ad to black, Asian, Jewish, or Spanish people’

Now imagine that, but automated, and ignored by Facebook. As well as housing, this was happening with things like employment opportunities, and credit. What I’m failing to understand here is why Facebook’s advertising tools allow this to happen in the first place, and why their automated checks don’t work. Aren’t tech giants supposed to be like, good at tech?

No, apparently they’re just good at breaking the law.

What Zuckerberg said: “Oh crap normally this sort of thing is caught by our human reviewers and machine-learning systems so I dunno what happened this time…?”

I guess discriminatory people make discriminatory AI? I guess that’s what happened, Zuck?

2018

Facebook fully suck the privacy out of everything

Wow, okay, it was in this year that we found out that Facebook had been sharing a lot of very personal data - including private messages - with more than 150 companies. Netflix, Spotify, Apple and Amazon are among the big ones. They’ve been doing this since 2010, and it took us eight years to notice. They’re so good at secrets, and so bad at remaining lawful…

What Zuckerberg said: “look this is all totally above board because it does not break that agreement we did in 2012 with the FTC and all users consented to this so it’s all totally cool and not invasive at all, really”

Makes sense. EXCEPT: sharing private conversations is invasive - it just is. And stop hiding behind your flimsy, vague terms of service and your silly, misleading ‘recommended settings’ that inevitably nearly every user agrees to.

2019

In present day, Facebook finally talk about being more private, somehow

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote this really long and “informative” blog post about Facebook focusing less on broadcasted posts (such as via the newsfeed) and more on conversations between small groups (such as private messages and group chats).

So Zuckerberg is talking about merging Whatsapp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. This sounds great. If you want to be confused. What’s good about merging these three platforms? What about people who have separate accounts on purpose for extremely valid reasons (hint hint: privacy).

Mark Zuckerberg used around 3200 words to talk about this merge, but uses none of them to really explain how it will work. Instead he basically makes up words. Like ‘interoperability’.

It’s important to note that privacy really should not dominate this much of the conversation - sharing data with third parties has legitimate uses, and does not need to be this invasive. Facebook kind of ruined it for everyone.

The main line Zuckerberg is pushing here is that he will, from now on, make his platform more privacy-focused. After his track record, do you believe him?