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FTC Fines Facebook $5 Billion for Privacy Violations

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  • The Federal Trade Commission has fined Facebook $5 billion for violating the privacy of customers and imposed new accountability measures and restrictions for Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
  • The fine is the largest penalty imposed on a tech company for privacy violations ever, which comes after a yearlong investigation into Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
  • The FTC found that Facebook “deceived” their customers by allowing their data to be accessed by apps their friends used, despite telling the public they had stopped that practice.
  • The FTC also alleges that Facebook enforced data sharing policies based “on whether Facebook benefited financially from its arrangements with the developer.”

FTC Announcement 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Wednesday that it was fining Facebook a record-breaking $5 billion for privacy violations as well as instituting sweeping privacy restrictions and oversight measures.

The penalty represents the largest fine that the FTC has ever imposed on a tech company by far. It is also the biggest penalty ever brought on a company for privacy violations, according to the FTC announcement.

The announcement comes after a yearlong investigation of Facebook over privacy violations.

That investigation was started right after The New York Times and The Observer of London reported that Facebook allowed British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and build voter profiles from those users data without their consent.

Cambridge Analytica got the data from Facebook users who used a third-party gaming application called “This Is Your Digital Life.”

Although it has been estimated that only around 270,000 people used the app, the users who gave the app permission to access and acquire their data also gave the app permission to do the same for all of their Facebook friends.

That resulted in the personal information of nearly 87 million Facebook users being collected by Cambridge Analytica, despite the fact that the vast majority of those people had never given the firm permission to access their information, or even played the game.

Along with investigating Cambridge Analytica, the FTC’s investigation also expanded to look at other privacy concerns, such as the tech giant’s data-sharing policies with other third-party apps and device-makers that Facebook users might not have understood or been aware of.

FTC Findings

All of that culminated in the report and announcement released Wednesday by the FTC.

In addition to the $5 billion fine, the FTC’s announcement also stated that Facebook must “submit to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy.”

That requirement, the FTC says, is mandated “to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company violated a 2012 FTC order by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.”

The FTC goes on to describe the 2012 order in question, saying that it explicitly “prohibited Facebook from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information, and the extent to which it shares personal information.” 

The 2012 FTC order also required that Facebook “maintain a reasonable privacy program that safeguards the privacy and confidentiality of user information.”

Violations of 2012 Order

The FTC goes on to outline how Facebook specifically violated the 2012 order. The statement describes numerous instances, but the most significant examples center around privacy disclosures to customers.

For example, in 2012, Facebook put a disclosure on their Privacy Settings page telling users the information they shared with their friends could also be shared with the third-party apps their friends used. 

The FTC claims that four months later, Facebook removed the disclosure “even though it was still sharing data from an app user’s Facebook friends with third-party developers.”

Then in 2014, Facebook announced they would stop letting third-party developers collect data about the friends of app users. However, the FTC says that Facebook separately told the developers that they could continue to access that data until April 2015.

Even then, Facebook still waited “until at least June 2018 to stop sharing user information with third-party apps used by their Facebook friends,” the FTC said.

The statement then goes on to say, “Facebook did not screen the developers or their apps before granting them access to vast amounts of user data.” 

Facebook also claimed it had consequences for policy violations by third-parties, but it “did not enforce such policies consistently and often based enforcement of its policies on whether Facebook benefited financially from its arrangements with the developer,” the FTC alleged.

New Restrictions & Overhauls

In addition to spelling out Facebook’s privacy violations, the FTC announcement also included some of the new restrictions and oversight measures that Facebook will have to comply with under the settlement.

To ensure accountability with Facebook’s board of directors, the order will create “an independent privacy committee of Facebook’s board of directors,” in order to remove “unfettered control by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg over decisions affecting user privacy.”

The settlement also requires the company to “designate compliance officers who will be responsible for Facebook’s privacy program,” and gives a third-party assessor more power to evaluate Facebook’s privacy programs.

Regarding restrictions the settlement imposes, Facebook will now have to conduct privacy reviews for any new or modified products and services before they can be implemented.

It will also be required to document any data breach involving 500 or more users. 

The FTC statement continues to include a laundry list of new requirements, like exercising more oversight over third-party apps, encrypting passwords, and more.

Notably, it also requires Facebook to “establish, implement, and maintain a comprehensive data security program.”

Also of huge significance is that these new restrictions and accountability measures will also apply to Facebook-owned companies WhatsApp and Instagram.

Response

The decision was approved by the FTC’s commissioners in a 3-to-2 vote earlier this month, with the three Republican commissioners voting to approve the settlement and the two Democrat commissioners voting to oppose.

In a statement to The New York Times, the three Republican commissioners, including agency chairman, Joseph Simons, said the settlement “will provide significant deterrence not just to Facebook, but to every other company that collects or uses consumer data.”

However, the two Democratic commissioners argued that the settlement did not do enough. They said that the $5 billion fine is just a slap on the wrist for Facebook, which made $55.8 billion in revenues last year alone. 

They also pointed out that the settlement did not actually do anything to change or restrict Facebook’s ability to collect and share their user’s personal information.

“The proposed settlement does little to change the business model or practices that led to the recidivism,” Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra wrote in his dissenting statement. “Nor does it include any restrictions on the company’s mass surveillance or advertising tactics.”

The Democratic commissioners also reportedly disliked the settlement because they wanted to take the case to court, and felt that the Facebook executives should have been held personally accountable.

The Republican commissioners, however, have said that they did not have a strong enough case to move it to court. 

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)

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Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off

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Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart. 


Strike Ends

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”

The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off. 

One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.

The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts. 

Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”

The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement

When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay. 

In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”

While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories. 

During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.” 

It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Friendship Is on the Decline in America Compared to 30 Years Ago

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While the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for increased isolation Americans have experienced over the past year, other factors for the drop in friendships include political differences, couples marrying later, and parents spending more time with kids.


Americans Have Fewer Friends Today

A new study released by the Survey Center on American Life has essentially found that friends are in short supply in America — or rather, that “despite renewed interest in the topic of friendship in popular culture and the news media, signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline.”

Out of more than 2,019 respondents made up of U.S. adults, only 13% said they had more than 10 close friends. That’s a big drop compared to a 1990 Gallup poll, which reported that a third of U.S. adults said they had more than 10 close friends. 

The poll also found that fewer Americans now say they have a “best” friend: 59% today compared to 75% in 1990.

Friendship Breakers: the Pandemic, Politics, and Work 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has very likely been the most direct cause of isolation over the past year.

As the poll also notes, women ages 18-29 appear to be the most affected demographic, with 43% having lost touch with at least a few friends and 16% indicating that they’re no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.

In addition to the pandemic, former President Donald Trump seems to be driving more broken friendships than perhaps most presidents. In fact, 22% of the respondents who said they ended a friendship cited Trump specifically. 

According to the poll, 20% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans have ended friendships over political disagreements, with 28% of political liberals saying they would end a friendship over political differences as opposed to 10% of conservatives. 

Other factors for Americans’ lost friendships include couples marrying later, parents spending more time with kids, as well as people working longer hours and being more geographically mobile.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While “best friends” are in shorter supply than in 1990, more than half of U.S. adults still say they have one. Another 46% of Americans have also reported making at least one new friend over the last year.  

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Independent) (Axios)

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NFL Says Teams Could Be Forced To Forfeit Games If Unvaccinated Players Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks

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Neither team will be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that faces the outbreak must also cover all expenses for the opposing team.


NFL Issues Strong Warning to the Unvaccinated

The National Football League announced Thursday that if a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players on a certain team, that team will be forced to forfeit the match. 

Additionally, the league said players on both teams will not be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that causes the game to be canceled will also be forced to cover all expenses for the opposing team. It could also face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s Office. 

As NFL.com writer Kevin Patra noted, this is “the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated.”

While the league has not mandated that its players and staff get vaccinated, in its Thursday memo, it said that “nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” It also noted that 75% of players “are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.”

The NFL added that vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work following two negative tests 24 hours apart. For unvaccinated players and staff who test positive, the NFL is deferring to its 2020 rules: 10-day isolation.

Rescheduling Vs. Canceling

Unvaccinated players — regardless of whether they test positive or not — will also be subject to more stringent protocols, including daily testing, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions.

That said, there is one potential loophole for teams that find themselves subject to outbreaks, though it could still be a longshot. The NFL will allow games to be rescheduled as long as they fit within the timeframe of its regular season.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL made clear in its memo. 

Still, the NFL may not be as flexible as it was during 2020. For example, while it was able to reschedule all of its postponed games during that season, it did so by moving some to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What Players Are Saying 

Currently-unvaccinated players were quick to speak out against the memo on Thursday.

“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.

Source: @deandrehopkins

Those advocating for players to get vaccinated have argued that not vaccinating yourself while engaging in a high-contact sport could still result in hurting teammates. In fact, several athletes have reported lingering effects following COVID-19 diagnoses, and some worry that long-term lung issues could cut their careers short. 

Similar to Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

Las Vegas Raiders running back even compared this year’s season to “playing in jail” in a now-deleted tweet, saying, “read the rules-know em like you know your plays.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hopes his team is “headed toward 100%” vaccination following the memo. 

See what others are saying: (NFL) (ESPN) (The Hill)

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