More than a decade’s worth of Facebook catastrophes

In the wake of the latest Facebook data breach catastrophe, Josh Constantine rounds up more than a decade’s worth of major catastrophes wrought by Facebook’s recklessness, greed, and foolishness, from Beacon to the “Engagement Ranked Feed” to the “Engagement Priced Ad Auctions” to the choices that created spamming games like Zynga’s offerings, to the mass overwriting of privacy preferences, to “ethnic affinity” ad targeting, to the Real Names policy and the stalkers it abetted to Facebook’s global anti-Net-Neutrality campaigns; to self-serve ads; to developer data access and the gift it handed to crooks like Cambridge Analytica.

I’d actually forgotten about some of these; in some ways, Facebook is the Donald Trump of Big Tech, such a font of shitty behavior that it’s impossible to remember all of the scandals, or even all of the biggest and worst ones.

Ethnic Affinity Ad Targeting = Racist Exclusion – Facebook’s ad system previously let businesses target users in “ethnic affinity” groups such as “African-American” or “Hispanic” based on their in-app behavior as a stand in for racial targeting. The idea was likely to help businesses find customers interested in their products, but the tool was shown to allow exclusion of certain ethnic affinity groups in ways that could be used to exclude them from legally protected opportunities such as housing; employment, and loans. Facebook has since disabled this kind of targeting while investigates the situation.

Real Name Policy = Enabling Stalkers – For years, Facebook strictly required to use their real names in order to reduce uncivility and bullying facilitated by hiding behind anonymity. But victims of stalking, domestic violence, and hate crimes argued that their abusers could use Facebook to track them down and harass them. Only after mounting criticism from the transgender community and others did Facebook slightly relax the policy in 2015, though some still find it onerous to set up a pseudonym on Facebook and dangerous to network without one.

Internet.org = International Net Neutrality Concerns – Facebook’s plan to give free Internet access to developing nations has been largely criticized as merely a way to wrap a user growth strategy in a philanthropic bow. Internet.org’s app initially offered a limited set of free services, excluding some competing social networks and featuring Facebook’s products. While some think giving free access to a slice of the web is better than none for those who might not be able to afford it, others see the zero-rating programs as a form of digital colonialism designed to get the poor hooked on a certain company’s version of the Internet. The brand name didn’t help to dispel that. Telecom partners pulled out in India leading Facebook to open the program to all develpers and rename it “Free Basics”. A government ban forced it to withdraw the app from India, though it remains available in 50 countries.

Facebook and the endless string of worst-case scenarios [Josh Constine/Tech Crunch]