Facebook Promises To Roll Back Relationships With Third-Party Data Brokers

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

Facebook is adjusting how it operates in an apparent attempt to assuage concerns that it stockpiles too much information about users, and most importantly to stay a step ahead of officials looking to write regulations.

The tech giant’s chief privacy officer and deputy general counsel announced a number of changes Wednesday that will make its “privacy tools easier to find.” Such technical mechanisms can help people find and delete their Facebook data, as well as limit the amount of information extracted and accumulated.

Soon after, Facebook announced further updates to how some of the most fundamental aspects of the platform work.

The social media company is shutting down Partner Categories, a feature that allows third-party data brokers “targeting options” based on preferences and personal characteristics.

“While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook,” the corporation said in a very brief blog post.

Ending, or restraining, relationships with data-oriented businesses like Oracle and Acxiom could chill advertisers’ desire to do business with Facebook. Marketers often rely on getting their promotional content to the right people — those, based on data, most likely to appreciate whatever is being sold or publicized.

“If data isn’t helping people, we shouldn’t use it,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said Tuesday, according to BuzzFeed. “This past week has underscored that we can do better. We’re going through our tools and approach with a fine-toothed comb.”

Such statements seem to contradict comments made on March 22 by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, either showing an ostensible disconnect in leadership’s views moving forward, or a very quick change in approach.

“We believe we can operate our service with our current business model, continue to provide a free service all around the world, and protect people’s data, but we are gonna have to earn that trust,” Sandberg told CNBC.

While apparently trying to ease anxieties, she also said they’re “able to give advertisers aggregate anonymous reports, never telling them who you are.”

Potentially corroborating the aforementioned notions that higher-ups may not be on the same page, or more likely that Facebook is moving fast, the company is stopping the practice of providing anonymized data to third parties, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The review of its practices and services are even more multifaceted, as Facebook has decided against revealing a slate of new products soon, according to Bloomberg, an alleged delay to ensure that devices like smart speakers aren’t overly invasive.

The changes come after a spate of incidences sparking backlash in recent weeks. More recently, Facebook disclosed that it was suspending a data analytics firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s campaign team, because it discovered that it was violating rules, and failed to rectify the results of its transgressions. Large portions of the public were already upset, even angry, with the company for being exploited by Russian operatives during the 2016 election — although what degree of success and effect they had is dubious. There was also the reports that Facebook has been collecting data like call and text logs through Google’s Android apps, something that many considered a new revelation, despite automatic advisement it’s doing so. (If those disclosures are sufficiently conspicuous is certainly debatable).

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly agreed to testify in front of Congress following several urgent appeals from U.S. lawmakers to do so recently. The exact date of the hearing is not yet known.

Facebook did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment in time of publication.

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