Profits rise, but Facebook’s poor privacy could still cost Zuckerberg

Privacy news
2 mins
An illustration of money pouring from a wallet bearing the initials MZ.

NOTE: This post was originally published on April 25, 2019

Countless privacy breaches don’t seem to have taken their toll on Mark Zuckerberg’s wallet.

Though Facebook was largely expected to announce its first drop in quarterly profits in four years, it didn’t work out that way. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the company posted a year-on-year first-quarter revenue increase of 26%. In turn, the value of Facebook shares went up as much as 5%.

The boost shows that advertisers, the primary source of the social media company’s profit, are not growing weary of the host of scandals in which Facebook is embroiled.

A slap on the wrist for Zuckerberg?

But it might still get worse still for the company’s founder. It appears the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States is seeking to hold Zuckerberg personally accountable for the privacy breaches of Facebook.

An investigation by the FTC is considering whether Facebook violated a legal agreement with the U.S. government that promised to keep user data private. If found guilty, the fine imposed is expected to top the $22.5 million fine Google received in 2012, by some distance.

Facebook has been reported to have set aside $3 billion—that’s billion with a b—for a potential fine.

A failure to produce a more privacy-focused network

It had seemed Facebook was taking a step toward a more secure platform. At least, the company was making all the right noises. There was to be a shift away from public posts, and the focus would be on private, secure messaging. So the company claimed.

“I’ll outline our vision and principles around building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform.”
Mark Zuckerberg

But no sooner had Zuckerberg promised change than it was revealed that millions of Instagram users’ passwords were stored and logged in a readable format.

Shadier, though, was the fact that the company decided to bury the news on the day the Mueller report on Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election was released.

Time to shape up or shut up

It’s all well and good to promise higher standards, but it means nothing if they are not backed with tangible actions. Facebook is just one of the many online companies that play fast and loose with your data. And we’re not the only ones to think so. What’s especially annoying is how easy it would be to fix a lot of the problems.

Perhaps threatening action against Zuckerberg will finally be enough for the social media giant to take notice and do something about the reckless and carefree attitude it has consistently taken toward online privacy.

Johnny 5 is the founding editor of the blog and writes about pressing technology issues. From important cat privacy stories to governments and corporations that overstep their boundaries, Johnny covers it all.