How Facebook stands to profit from its ‘privacy’ push

In this April 11, 2018, photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question as he testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Updated 09 March 2019
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How Facebook stands to profit from its ‘privacy’ push

At first glance, Mark Zuckerberg’s new “privacy-focused vision ” for Facebook looks like a transformative mission statement from a CEO under pressure to reverse years of battering over its surveillance practices and privacy failures.
But critics say the announcement obscures Facebook’s deeper motivations: To expand lucrative new commercial services, continue monopolizing the attention of users, develop new data sources to track people and frustrate regulators who might be eyeing a breakup of the social-media behemoth.
Facebook “wants to be the operating system of our lives,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of media studies at the University of Virginia.
Zuckerberg’s plan, outlined Wednesday, expands Facebook’s commitment to private messaging, in sharp contrast with his traditional focus on public sharing. Facebook would combine its instant-messaging services WhatsApp and Instagram Direct with its core Messenger app so that users of one could message people on the others, and would expand the use of encrypted messaging to keep outsiders — including Facebook — from reading the messages.
The plan also calls for using those messaging services to expand Facebook’s role in e-commerce and payments. A Facebook spokesperson later said it was too early to answer detailed questions about the company’s messaging plans.
Vaidhyanathan said Zuckerberg wants people to abandon competing, person-to-person forms of communication such as email, texting and Apple’s iMessage in order to “do everything through a Facebook product.” The end goal could be transform Facebook into a service like the Chinese app WeChat , which has 1.1 billion users and includes the world’s most popular person-to-person online payment system.
In some respects, Facebook was already headed in this direction. It has dabbled with shopping features in its Messenger app for a few years, although without much effect. And WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for $22 billion in 2014, embraced a strong privacy technology known as “end-to-end encryption” nearly three years ago. Messages protected this way are shielded from snooping, even by the services who deliver them.
But Zuckerberg said nothing in the Wednesday blog post about reforming privacy practices in its core business, which remains hungry for data. A recent Wall Street Journal report found that Facebook was still collecting personal information from apps such as user heart rates and when women ovulate .
Facebook, which perfected what critics call “surveillance capitalism,” knows it has serious credibility issues. Those go beyond repeated privacy lapses to include serious abuses by Russian agents, hate groups and disinformation mongers, which Zuckerberg acknowledged only belatedly.
“Until Facebook actually fixes its core privacy issues — and especially given their history — it’s difficult to take the pivot to privacy seriously,” said Justin Brookman, who was a research director at the Federal Trade Commission before joining Consumers Union as privacy and technology chief in 2017.
Combining the three messaging services could allow Facebook — which today has 15 million fewer US users than in 2017, according to Edison Research — build more complete data profiles on all its users.
The merged messaging services should generate new profits from the metadata they collect, including information on who you message, when you do it, from where and for how long, said Frederike Kaltheuner of the advocacy group Privacy International. That is the information that users leave behind when they message each other or conduct retail, travel or financial business, she added.
And Facebook doesn’t just use people’s information and activity on its platform, dissecting it to target people with tailored ads. It also tracks people who don’t even use the platform via small pieces of software embedded in third-party apps.
Privacy International published research in December showing that popular Android apps including KAYAK and Yelp were automatically sending user data directly to Facebook the moment they were opened. KAYAK, which was sending flight search results, halted the practice and said the transmission was inadvertent. Yelp continues to send unique identifiers known as “advertising IDs” that link to specific smartphones.
Facebook also has trackers that harvest data on people’s online behavior on about 30 percent of the world’s websites , said Jeremy Tillman of Ghostery, a popular ad-blocker and anti-tracking software.
“When they say they are building a private messaging platform there is nothing in there that suggests they are going to stop their data collection and ad-targeting business model,” he said.
In a Wednesday interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg offered no specifics on new revenue sources. But “the overall opportunity here is a lot larger than what we have built in terms of Facebook and Instagram,” he said.
Privacy advocates, however, do admire one key element of Zuckerberg’s announcement.
“In the last year, I’ve spoken with dissidents who’ve told me encryption is the reason they are free, or even alive,” Zuckerberg wrote.


News anchors join New Zealand women wearing headscarves for mosque attack victims

Updated 22 March 2019
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News anchors join New Zealand women wearing headscarves for mosque attack victims

  • The AM Show news anchor Amanda Gillies said the gesture 'shows we are united'
  • Newsreaders began broadcasts with Islamic greetings

CHRISTCHURCH: News anchors in New Zealand joined women across the country in wearing headscarves as a show of solidarity on Friday for the victims of last week’s mosques shooting. 

The newsreaders covering the memorial events for the 50 people killed by a white supremacist at two mosques in Christchurch, began broadcasts with Islamic greetings.

They included The AM Show news anchor Amanda Gillies, who said she agonized over whether to cover her hair with a peach-colored scarf.

"There's no way a week ago that I would have, because I would have thought it would have been deemed inappropriate, not right, that I was insulting the Muslim community," Gillies said.

"I'll be honest - I did angst over it today whether I should wear it, because I didn't want to be inappropriate or offend the Muslim community. But I know that they are so welcoming and accepting of it, and I know that a lot of women will wear it today because it just shows that we are united - the solidarity is there, the love and support is there."

Elsewhere, women across the country wore hijabs on an emotional day when the shocked  nation came together to remember those killed.

 A journalist wearing a headscarf as tribute to the victims of the mosque attacks uses her phone before Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. (Reuters)

Rafaela Stoakes, a 32-year-old mother of two, said wearing the Islamic head covering gave her an insight into what it means to stand out and feel part of the minority.

On Friday morning she covered all but a few locks of her dark chestnut-coloured hair in a loose red and white scarf, crossed neatly beneath her chin and tucked into a black hiking jacket.

She was one of many women embracing #HeadScarfforHarmony, to make a stand against the hate espoused by the Australian man who killed dozens of worshippers.

Headscarves were also worn as a mark of respect by policewomen and non-Muslim volunteers directing the crowds around the site in Christchurch holding communal prayers on Friday.

Many were wearing a headscarf for the first time.

"It is amazing how different I felt for the short time I was out this morning," Stoakes told AFP.

"There were a lot of confused looks and some slightly aggressive ones," she said.

"I did feel a sense of pride to honour my Muslim friends, but I also felt very vulnerable and alone as I was the only person wearing one."

"It must take a lot of courage to do this on a daily basis."

The gesture caught on nationwide -- in offices, schools and on the streets -- as well as at the ceremonies held in Christchurch to mark one week since the killings at the hands of a self-avowed white supremacist.

Women flooded Twitter, Facebook and other social media -- which played a key role in allowing the gunman to spread his message -- with their images.

Kate Mills Workman, a 19-year-old student from Wellington, posted a selfie on Twitter wearing a green headscarf.

"If I could I would be attending the mosque and standing outside to show my support for my Muslim whanau but I've got lectures and I can't really skip them," she told AFP, using a Maori language term for extended family.

"Obviously this is all spurred on by the terrible tragedy in Christchurch, but it's also a way of showing that any form of harassment or bigotry based on a symbol of religion is never okay," she added.

"As New Zealanders, we have to make a really strong stand."

Although the headscarf has been the subject of contentious debate over gender rights in the Islamic world, for Stoakes the day has been a lesson in how pious Muslim women often do not have the option to melt away into the background when they feel vulnerable.

"We can nod and pretend to agree with people who we are afraid of, or plead ignorance if we feel in danger of confrontation," she said.

"But a Muslim is just right out there. Like a bullseye. Their hijabs and clothing speak before they do."