Facebook celebrated its 15th anniversary Monday in all-too-familiar fashion: another privacy scandal.
This one crosses the line.
Since 2016, Facebook has been paying minors as young as 13 to download an app that tracks nearly everything they do on their phones. Taking a cue from tobacco companies, the Menlo Park-based social media company advertised the app on Snapchat and Instagram, where today’s teens routinely hang out.
The outrageous practice is as creepy as it is greedy. The notion that young teenagers can give informed consent is ludicrous, as any responsible parent or business leader knows. As a parent with two children, CEO Mark Zuckerberg should know better than to profit by preying on children. The revelation destroys whatever remaining credibility he had on privacy issues.
The fact that Facebook is willing to pay teens $20 a month for access to their private data — where they go, what websites they visit and what they purchase — is another indicator of how much the company is profiting from consumers’ data.
This isn’t the first time Zuckerberg has ignored basic business ethics standards.
Remember the 2011 Federal Trade Commission investigation that revealed Facebook had falsely promised customers that it would not share their data with advertisers? Or Facebook’s 2014 secret mood-manipulation scandal, in which the company altered 700,000 users’ news feeds to see if viewing more positive or negative posts would have an impact on their own posts? Or the revelation last year that Facebook was aware of a massive theft of users’ personal data but failed to tell the public?
A day of reckoning awaits Zuckerberg and other tech companies. The more users distrust Facebook, the more likely they are to reconsider their online habits. And the more likely Congress will crack down on companies that flaunt calls for self-regulation on basic privacy-rights issues.
Indeed, congressional action is overdue. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has proposed an internet bill of rights that’s a good starting point for legislative action.
Right now, Zuckerberg is laughing all the way to the bank. Despite the public outrage, Facebook’s earnings per share jumped 65 percent from a year ago. The social media company’s net profit for the last quarter totaled $6.88 billion, a record profit for the company.
Zuckerberg’s actions prove that his public apologies are meaningless. Nevertheless, the United States remains the only major developed nation without fundamental online user protections. Congress shouldn’t wait another day to pass Khanna’s internet bill of rights and give users the basic privacy rights they deserve.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS