A New York privacy lawsuit has Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Twitter, Yelp, Kickstarter, Meetup, and Tumblr supporting Facebook in court.
Facebook Chief Deputy General Chris Sonderby informed Facebook users of the situation earlier this summer: “Since last summer, we’ve been fighting hard against a set of sweeping search warrants issued by a court in New York that demanded we turn over nearly all data from the accounts of 381 people who use our service, including photos, private messages, and other information…of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected. The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited us from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now.”
Of the 381 accounts demanded by the warrants, only 62 related to criminal activity. The others were user data accounts of grandchildren, teachers, officials, and other persons who aren’t even under suspicion for criminal activity.
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Facebook also goes on to say that the company went to court to fight these warrants but “were told by a lower court that as an online service provider we didn’t even have legal standing to protest the warrants,” Sonderby said. Facebook filed an appeal, but it was later rejected; Facebook only complied because the court promised to bring criminal charges against the social media company if it didn’t comply.
This past Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed motions along with Google, Twitter, and Microsoft in support of Facebook’s fight to surrender the remaining 319 user accounts in court. The NYCLU said that the warrants were nothing more than “broad fishing expeditions” in its filing, considering that the warrants called for the user accounts of everyone “from high schoolers to grandparents, from all over New York and across the United States.”
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We here at Inferse want to bring these types of stories to public attention because we want to show that Facebook, as much as we think some of its permissions are a little weird and defy understanding, isn’t the only one at fault in the war between social media and privacy these days. At the same time, however, we think that if Facebook accessed fewer bits of user data, then judicial courts and world governments wouldn’t have as much overreach into user data as they do.
In other words, if Facebook allowed users to customize permissions (select some they can agree with, reject others such as the right to record audio on Facebook Messenger), perhaps Facebook would make itself less of a target for government or court warrants such as these. If Facebook started limiting what data it collects on Facebook users, then it wouldn’t have to go to court and fight to protect its users.
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Just this week, Facebook purchased privacy protection company PrivateCore, a company that wrote in its acquisition announcement that “Over time, Facebook plans to deploy our technology into the Facebook stack to help protect the people who use Facebook.” In other words, Facebook is starting to care more and more about protecting the data of its users.
While we applaud Facebook’s efforts to protect our user data, we also want to become more informed on what Facebook intends to do with it – and just saying “We’re taking all this user data to sell you better ads that are targeted to you” isn’t enough. We want to know what Facebook intends to do with every permission we grant the company whenever we download Instagram, or Facebook Messenger, or some other app the company may create in the future. We want a more detailed explanation than what we’ve been given in the past.
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Facebook, if you want your users to trust you more, don’t just acquire companies that aim to protect us – and don’t just make promises to Facebook developers at your annual F8 Conference. Rather, tell us what these specific permissions are for and what you intend to do with them. And then, allow us to come to trust you over time by allowing us to use Facebook Messenger with one or two permissions enabled – then, as you win our trust, we may open up to allow more permissions into our user data. While “we’ll protect your data over time” sounds nice, we want results now. Today. Soon.