Facebook is one of the largest and influential social media platforms on the internet with nearly 2 billion monthly active users. More than half of the people that have access to the internet use Facebook on a monthly basis. But since the birth of Facebook in 2004, it has seen a lot of criticism, privacy concerns, instances of ad fraud, inappropriate content, and data mining on its platform, which ultimately threatened the company’s reputation. 

Timeline of Facebook controversies

September 2004  [copied-idea]

The founders of ConnectU filed a lawsuit against Facebook that alleges that Zuckerberg copied their idea and source code that they provided to make the site. The controversy ended when they reached the settlement in February 2008. Facebook paid $20 million in cash and 1,253,326 Facebook shares to the three founders of ConnectU; Tyler Winklevoss, Divya Narendra, and Cameron Winklevoss. Some claim the shares were trading at $76 per share in the secondary market, putting the total settlement value close to $120 million.

December 2005  [Facebook data mining]

There were many claims that Facebook could be used as a means of data mining and that concern came true when two students studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were able to download the publicly posted information of over 70,000 Facebook profiles using an automated script when they were working on the research project on Facebook privacy.

September 2006 [mini-feed privacy concern]

Facebook introduced a new feature called  “Mini-Feed”, a news feed that appears on every member’s home page. It displays their recent activities of the member’s friends. Mini-Feed also provided details on things like new friends, new applications that you’ve installed, and messages sent by applications. It can basically report any changes from an application that could be seen as a news event, which created a controversy as the user’s friend could see every activity a user’s doing from purchases to messages.

December 2009 [user’s friend in public]

Facebook issued a new privacy policy which shows a list of friends of users to be “publicly available” with no privacy settings, which was not the case earlier. Due to this change, the users who had set their “list of friends” as private were forced to make it public without even being informed. This was removed later due to complaints.

2010 [not allowing users to delete their accounts]

At the beginning of 2010, Facebook didn’t allow users to delete accounts but allowed them to deactivate them. Facebook still retained their account content from its servers. The users had to clear their own accounts by manually deleting all of the content including wall posts, friends, and messages. Facebook later began allowing users to permanently delete their accounts in the same year.

November 2011 [non-members Tracking]

One of the articles published in the US claimed that Facebook is also tracking the users who didn’t create an account but are using its platform, by creating logs of pages visited by them. This is done with the help of cookies to keep track of pages visited. Later on,  Facebook was ordered by the Belgian Privacy Commissioner to cease tracking non-users, citing European laws, or else risk fines of up to £251,000 per day.

The year 2012 [psychological experiments on users]

Facebook conducted a psychological test on users by manipulating information posted on around 700,000 users’ home pages. They did so by hiding a tiny percentage of emotional words from people’s news feed, without even letting them know. They did so to see how people would react. It created outrage among users which caused Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg to apologize. 

Oct 2015 [terrorism]

Facebook was accused of being a public platform for terrorism where a lot of terrorist groups were sharing questionable posts on their Facebook pages. Facebook said they rely on users to report posts that violate its standards, such as images that celebrate or glorify violence, and later took a hard line towards such cases.

July 2017 [inappropriate secret group]

News reported that there were secret Facebook groups engaging in illegal activity; sharing “obscene” photos of women that are with the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation and warning such group members of the possibility of being liable for violating child pornography and anti-voyeurism laws. Facebook later removed the groups as a violation of its community guidelines.

January 2018 [Cambridge Analytica]

The infamous Cambridge Analytica tried to influence the 2016 US presidential election via advertisements on the Facebook ads service. About 90 million users’ accounts were affected by the data breach. Cambridge Analytica collected data from millions of users without their knowledge. They were also able to harvest data on the users’ Facebook friends too. This scandal has cost Facebook a lot and its share dropped $50 billion alone during first week of the scandal.

September 2018 [technical data breach]

Facebook’s “view as” option has a security bug that was active from July 2017. This allowed hackers to steal the access tokens to carry out the attack first gained tokens from their friends. By then using an automated technique, they were successful at stealing tokens from friends of friends. The result was hackers ultimately stealing tokens from 50 million accounts, the bug was so severe that it not only gives access to Facebook accounts but also to those sites where you have used Facebook to sign up. For example, if you have signed up to Instagram using Facebook then your account may have compromised too. The FBI is now in the investigation on the matter.

December 2018 [app bug]  

The bug in the Facebook apps allowed the third-party app to gain access to users’ images. The bug allowed them to pull a lot of users’ data from stories to timeline photos.

I hope that we don’t get to hear any more controversies from Facebook,  if you know any controversy that’s not included and are very lesser known to people, feel free to write it down.

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