The growing global backlash on concerns of privacy and the use of its platforms such as WhatsApp to spread fake news has forced social media giant Facebook to take several measures using technology as well as reaching out to policy makers and academic community to allay these concerns. This as per a report in the Economic Times.
Facebook is investing in technology and hiring thousands of people to weed out fake profiles often associated with spreading false news, and WhatsApp has begun testing tools to inform users when a message is originally composed and forwarded, people familiar with the development said. It is also blocking advertisements to pages that repeatedly spread false news, removing financial incentives.
Facebook has also stepped up hiring more public policy experts in its teams to engage with governments. Facebook is also expanding to Instagram, the photo sharing site, a service to people who seek drugs, to reach out to counselling centres and prevent drug abuse, they said. Experts, however, said it needs to do more.
“The expectations from Facebook have dramatically changed, because it is having a huge impact on the society,” said Soumitra Dutta, professor at Cornell University in operations, technology and information management area. “It is an awakening of a company to the future since Facebook is no more just an online company,” he said, talking about the recent controversies sparked off by Facebook.
Facebook also realises that. It has begun an exercise to hire a massive number of executives in public policy and government affairs roles across the world including in India as it battles multiple governments over privacy and data sharing. The company currently has close to 100 positions open in this area with around four roles in India.
The social media giant is being questioned by governments in Germany, Singapore, the US and even in India, asking it be subjected to local regulations. India too has taken a strong position over the recent Facebook debacle.
Complaints regarding Facebook
Saavn, Airtel had access to Facebook user data even after 2015. India’s biggest phone company Bharti Airtel and music streaming app Saavn were among select partners that received special exemptions from Facebook to obtain user data even after it discontinued access in 2015, the social media giant disclosed to the US Congress in the first week of July.
A report in June, stated that new documents released by Facebook (to answer questions raised by two Senate committees probing social media privacy) has revealed that it has admitted that it allows advertisers to target users based on their “interests” and “behaviors”.
As many as 14 million users of Facebook around the world could have shared posts unwittingly with the general public when they were intended for just friends or select groups, the company admitted last week. According to a statement released by Erin Egan, chief privacy officer at Facebook, a software bug automatically changed users’ settings to public even if people usually kept their posts to a more restricted circulation, such as “friends of friends”.
While users still had the option of choosing their audience just as they always have been able to, the problem was that a lot of people who have become accustomed to their privacy settings may have overlooked the temporary public designation. The glitch was active from May 18 to May 22, but Facebook wasn’t able to fix the problem until May 27, leading Egan to urge users to review any posts made during that time while assuring them that their settings have now reverted to what they were before.
Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device-makers — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — during the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals, most of which remain in effect, allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device-makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books.
While the Indian government has shot multiple letters to Facebook after the revelations over illegal data mining by Cambridge Analytica came to light, the recent episodes of lynching fuelled by rumours spread through WhatsApp network has made matters worse for the company in India. WhatsApp’s ambitious plan to launch a full-fledged payment service in the country over the Unified Payment Interface is also stuck, pending approvals.
According to officials in the know, WhatsApp doesn’t have an independent public policy team in India and has been engaging with the government on key issues through the Facebook team.
“There is a fine line between consumer privacy and using their data for business gains and Facebook has to realise that,” Dutta said.
“Most of the technology companies try to get away on the pretence that they don’t understand societal norms or political aspects of the products that they are building. But that has to change. Companies can’t be blind to it anymore since they are having a huge impact on society. So it is good that companies like Facebook are trying to build new talent and capabilities in the company, I look at it as a positive,” said Dutta.
Experts like Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bengaluru-based think tank Centre for Internet and Society, echoed similar views when he said Facebook needs to do a lot more to tackle the menace of fake news since they have started the problem. “They have to expand their funding for fact checkers dramatically, because Facebook and Google both have destroyed traditional media so the business model for real news has been replaced with business model for fake news,” he said. Abraham proposes a “heavy handed” approach for Facebook and WhatsApp now to tackle the issue by funding atleast 30 fact checking organisations and having ways to flag not just forwarded content but also finding a way to get them fact checked since messages are end to end encrypted on their platform.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Union minister for electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad also touched upon this aspect when he said social media companies have to be more “accountable, responsible and vigilant”. “They can’t say that we are a technology company and we have created a product and now we don’t know what to do,” he said. If companies like Whatsapp are reaping huge monetary gains from India, they also have to take security of its people more seriously, the minister said.
WhatsApp has proposed using technologies such as machine learning, labelling forwarded messages and engaging with the civil society and academicians to stem the spread of fake and malicious content through its channel in India which has caused multiple deaths across dozen Indian states.