Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is the latest tech celebrity to urge users to purge their Facebook account, suggesting that the privacy risks are concerning and that there’s no way of effectively determining whether apps are eavesdropping on private conversations.
“For some, the benefits of Facebook are worth the loss of privacy, but to some, like myself, my recommendation is, to most people, is you should figure out a way to get off Facebook,” said Wozniak.
“They can measure your heartbeat now; they can listen to you with a lot of devices. Who knows if my cellphone’s listening right now […] people think they have a level of privacy that they don’t,” he added.
Wozniak’s remarks, given during a short interview at a U.S. airport, echo his personal decision to quit the platform in April 2018 after the emergence of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
At the time, he pointed to Facebook’s invasive data-logging policies as the primary reason to delete his account.
“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and … Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this,” he told USA Today. “The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.”
In his latest interview, Wozniak urged social media companies to charge a fee if it meant that it could safeguard user privacy.
“Why don’t they give me a choice? Let me pay a certain amount, and you’ll keep my data more secure and private than everybody else handing it to the advertisers.”
Wozniak’s comments echo that of Apple CEO Tim Cook. He’s likened the advertising-driven business models of Facebook and Google to “surveillance,” adding that a privacy-first mindset drives Apple’s ethos and that people’s control over their personal information is a “fundamental human right.”
Facebook’s Image Crisis
To say that Facebook has had a rough past couple of years is probably an understatement.
Damning data leaks such as the emergence of the Cambridge Analytica news, public exposure of hundreds of millions of accounts, and a failure to stop sharing user data with other companies has forced the social media platform to adopt a defensive posture.
Facebook published an uncharacteristic blog post in late 2017, titled “Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”, in an attempt to win back trust by talking about detrimental factors of hyper-connectivity and ways it was addressing the problem.
But the PR crisis is far from over. For example, individuals intimately involved with the growth of the company are far from convinced.
WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who became a billionaire after its acquisition by Facebook, vehemently criticized the social media leviathan during a public appearance at Stanford University.
He followed that up with a tweet saying it’s time to “Delete Facebook” fuelling the viral hashtag last year.
In a 2017 interview, Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president and Napster co-founder, admitted that the initial drive behind the social network was to “consume as much time and conscious attention as possible.”
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways,” he added.
Despite the criticism, Facebook continues to make coin
Facebook’s stock certainly took a beating in 2018, but the stock has rallied in recent months and is almost back at the heights before the data privacy crises.
Despite all the negative press fallout, the fact is that revenue and users continue to grow. Even though its primary markets of the U.S., Canada, and Europe are saturated, with little room to add more users, Facebook’s doing a remarkable job of convincing advertisers to allocate more of their budgets to the platform.
There’s even more optimism, or despair, depending on which way you look at it, by analyzing Facebook in Asia and Africa.
When it comes to emerging markets, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. It’s used as a means of communication, facilitating e-commerce, and a critical source of news and information. Farmers in Myanmar, for example, aren’t concerned with privacy the same way as consumers in the U.S.
And it is, perhaps, this emerging market opportunity that drove Facebook to launch its cryptocurrency project, Libra. With it, Facebook believes it can use the reach of its platform to provide a viable payment alternative for the unbanked, most of which, of course, live outside developed economies.
“Success will mean that a person working abroad has a fast and simple way to send money to family back home, and a college student can pay their rent as easily as they can buy a coffee,” says Facebook in its Libra documentation.
However, despite global product innovation with an eye to the future, the reality is that Facebook has a lot more to do if it is to convince skeptics in its largest revenue-generating audience.
Empty promises from Zuckerberg
In a blog post in March, Mark Zuckerberg envisioned a future for Facebook and declared that a “privacy-focused platform” is the need of the hour.
“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure, and their messages and content won’t stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about,” he wrote.
Facebook isn’t going away anytime soon, but we can say with certainty that the company will do more to demonstrate that it’s taking privacy seriously. A combination of public opinion and the looming threat of government regulation will force Facebook’s hand.
And for the precise outcome of this all? Still too early to predict.