Tuesday, 21 November 2017 09:16

Ex-Facebook manager calls for curbs on social media giant


A former operations manager at Facebook says the social media giant has exhibited a lax attitude towards self-regulation in the past and needs to be regulated by an external entity.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked with the company's platforms team in 2011 and 2012, said in an op-ed in The New York Times that what he had seen internally was a company that prioritised data collection from its users over protecting them for abuse.

Facebook recently faced questioning from the US Congress about posts and ads on its platform that are suspected of influencing the outcome of the US presidential election in 2016.

In the wake of these hearings, Parakilas said, there was no point in lawmakers waiting for the organisation to regulate itself. "Because it won't," he wrote.

Given that Facebook's business model was based on collecting as much data about an individual as possible, there was no incentive to police the collection of that data, Parakilas said. The only time that the organisation checked itself was when there was negative press coverage or when regulators came into the picture.

"Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place," he wrote.

Recalling the time when Facebook offered popular social games like Farmville and Candy Crush, he said there were no protections for the data that passed through these games on Facebook to external developers. And there was no way to police misuse of this data.

The issue gained some mileage in the media, Parakilas pointed out, adding that the only way to stop this was for Facebook to threaten to cut off a developer's access.

"But when I was at Facebook, the typical reaction I recall looked like this: try to put any negative press coverage to bed as quickly as possible, with no sincere efforts to put safeguards in place or to identify and stop abusive developers. When I proposed a deeper audit of developers’ use of Facebook’s data, one executive asked me, 'Do you really want to see what you’ll find'?" he wrote.

"The message was clear: The company just wanted negative stories to stop. It didn’t really care how the data was used."

Given the reach that Facebook had it was urgent to put in place processes that made it accountable. What existed right now was "...a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse".

"Facebook needs to be regulated more tightly, or broken up so that no single entity controls all of its data. The company won’t protect us by itself, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake," Parakilas said.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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