- 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.”
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.
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.
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)
Celebrities, Politics, & Scandal: The Truth About Deepfakes & Future What Ifs…
Deepfakes are defined as any “fake” or manipulated video, image, or even audio created using something known as deep learning technology. In this video, we’ll discuss how that technology works as we dive into the complex and controversial world of deepfakes.
You’ll hear from some of the most talented creators on YouTube who use this powerful technology to create impressive fake videos. We’ll also take a look at the more malicious uses of this technology including non-consensual pornography, white-collar crime, and election tampering. Check out our video for the full story.
Weight Watchers’ Kids App Draws Backlash From Parents and Nutritionists
- Weight Watchers recently introduced a new app called Kurbo, which is aimed at helping adolescents between the ages of 8-17 lose weight.
- Some are happy to see the company create an easy to use app for the millions of children struggling with their weight.
- But many parents and nutritionists worry that the app could promote unhealthy relationships with food and worsen or create body image issues and eating disorders.
WW Launches Kurbo
More than 80,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Weight Watchers to remove its new weight loss app aimed at children.
Weight Watchers, which now calls itself WW, introduced a new app called Kurbo last week, saying the program is designed “to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight,” according to a WW press release.
In 2018, WW acquired the nutrition app, which is based on Stanford University’s pediatric obesity program and “30 years of clinical nutrition and behavior change research,” according to the app’s website.
After purchasing Kurbo, WW spent about a year developing it, adding in features like breathing-exercise instructions, a Snapchat-inspired interface, and multi-day streaks to encourage daily activity.
Users in the U.S. can download the free app, add in their height, weight, age, and health goals, and begin logging in what they eat. In their statement announcing the program, WW explained that Kurbo uses the “Traffic Light System” to guide adolescents towards healthy food choices.
“Kids and teens are encouraged to eat more of the healthy “green light” foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful of portions of “yellow light” foods (such as lean protein, whole grains and dairy) and gradually reduce but still include consumption of “red light” foods (such as sugary drinks and treats),” the statement reads.
Users can also consult with a personal coach through the app for a fee, starting at $69 a month. This gives them access to 15-minute video chat sessions with Kurbo coaches every week.
Kurbo says their coaches are “specially-trained, Kurbo-certified and come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds including counseling, fitness and nutrition-related fields.”
The company also claims that its mission is to help kids build long-lasting healthy habits.
“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said in a statement released by WW.
“As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective.”
Fans of WW are supportive of the app, saying they hope the company can transform the lives of children the way it has for so many adults. Others point out that millions of young people struggle with their weight, so it is important to have easily accessible tools to help with weight loss.
About 13.7 million U.S. children between 2-19-year-old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC uses data based on body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on weight and height that many health professionals have slammed as arbitrary and inaccurate.
Despite some support, many parents and nutritionists are concerned that Kurbo can create unhealthy relationships with food at a highly impressionable time in a child’s life. In fact, some studies suggest that childhood weight loss efforts can lead to or worsen eating disorders and body image issues.
Critics have also expressed concerns about specific points on the app, including the success stories section which shows before and after photos of children as young as eight, along with their weight loss totals and testimonials.
“Looking at before and after pictures of kids who have lost weight is absolutely something that could lead to children to feel horrible about themselves and it really is a form of body shaming,” Keri Glassman, a New York City-based registered dietitian told Good Morning America.
“They could have created an app for children that promoted healthy eating and healthy lifestyle and good health education and information and help children boost confidence,” she said. “But I feel like the way this app was built is so similar to Weight Watchers, and just geared completely towards weight loss, weight loss, weight loss.”
Others have criticized the goals section on the app, which includes the options: eat healthier, lose weight, make parents happy, get stronger and fitter, have more energy, boost my confidence, or feel better in my clothes.
Kurbo has stressed that the app is meant to be a “family-based-approach,” but many say that working to lose weight to satisfy family members can be damaging and parents handing their child this app can make them feel like something is wrong with them.
Nutritionists have also criticized the coaches, who they argue are not health-care experts. Based on staff descriptions on the app’s website, the trained experts include people with degrees in economics, tourism management, and communications.
However, WW responded to this with WW’s Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster telling CNBC: “If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists.”
“What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.”
WW was likely expecting some backlash over the app, but still, many are sharing the petition that calls for its removal to spread awareness about the concerns. Holly Stallcup, the woman who started the petition told GMA that she is recovering from an eating disorder herself.
“The story that you are hearing over and over again is all of us who started struggling at the age that this app is targeted for saying it was already bad enough without an app,” she said.
“If we had had this app in our hands to literally log every bite of food to eat, we know that some of us would have actually died from our diseases because it would have so enabled our unhealthy, mentally ill thinking.”
The petition quickly spread online and has even been shared by Good Place actress Jamella Jamil, a vocal advocate for body positivity.
Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people recover from disordered eating, penned an opinion piece in The New York Times warning parents not to let their children use this app, or other similar weight loss programs.
“Our society is unfair and cruel to people who are in larger bodies, so I can empathize with parents who might believe their child needs to lose weight, and with any child who wants to,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, attempts to shrink a child’s body are likely to be both ineffective and harmful to physical and mental health.”
“If we truly want to help children be the healthiest and happiest people they can be, we need to stop putting them on diets of any kind, which are likely to worsen their overall well-being. Instead, we need to start teaching them to trust their own inner wisdom about food. And we need to help them make peace with their bodies, at any size,” she added
Walmart Removes “Violent” Displays Including Video Game Demos From Stores
- Walmart employees were given a memo instructing them to remove all signs and demos for “violent” video games, as well as turn off any movies or videos depicting violence.
- Walmart, which is one of the largest gun sellers in the U.S., has come under renewed fire for continuing firearm sales after two recent shootings at their stores.
- On Wednesday, dozens of Walmart employees in San Bruno, California staged a walkout to protest the company’s gun sales.
- Walmart has said it will not change its policies around the sale of firearms.
Walmart is instructing its employees to take down displays “referencing violence” following recent fatal shootings in two of their stores.
On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 and injuring dozens more. A few days earlier, on July 30, another gunman shot and killed two employees and injured a police officer at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi.
Following the shooting, many politicians including President Donald Trump partially blamed violent videogames for the massacres.
Earlier this week, a memo sent to Walmart employees titled “Immediate Action: Remove Signing and Displays Referencing Violence” circulated on social media. Walmart confirmed the authenticity of the letter to USA Today on Thursday.
“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and this action does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment,” Walmart spokeswoman Tara House said in a statement to the media.
The memo specifically tells employees to turn off demos of “violent games, specifically PlayStation or Xbox units” and instructs them to cancel promotional events for “combat style or third-person shooter games.”
It also tells staff to turn off movies that depict violence as well as hunting season videos that are played in sporting goods sections.
Calls for Action & Employee Walkout
The memo does not indicate that Walmart will stop selling any of the products in the displays that employees have been directed to remove.
Critics have since argued that the store should focus less on video games and more on its current gun sale policies Advocacy groups, employees, politicians, and others have called for Walmart to do more to prevent gun violence, including stopping selling firearms altogether.
Walmart is one of the largest firearm and ammunition retailers in the United States. It also allows customers to carry guns in their stores in the cities and states where open carry is legal.
Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called on Walmart to stop selling guns, writing on Twitter, “The weapons they sell are killing their own customers and employees. No profit is worth those lives.”
Companies that sell guns have a responsibility to the safety of their communities. @Walmart is one of the largest gun retailers in the world. The weapons they sell are killing their own customers and employees. No profit is worth those lives. Do the right thing—stop selling guns.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 9, 2019
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano also implored the store to stop selling guns on Twitter.
Walmart Employees Walkout
Separately, dozens of Walmart employees staged a walkout in San Bruno, California on Wednesday after two employees sent emails and Slack messages to all about 20,000 employees calling for a strike to protest the company’s firearm sales.
The two employees, Thomas Marshall and Kate Kesner, also circulated a Change.org petition, which currently has over 54,000 signatures.
Marshall told the Washington Post that some Walmart employees are concerned they could face retaliation from the company if they participated in the strike. “People are really afraid for their jobs,” he said. “Walmart has a reputation for silencing dissent.”
Walmart has since disabled both Marshall and Kesner’s company email and Slack accounts.
Despite public backlash, Walmart for its part has indicated it will not stop selling guns. “There has been no change in company policy,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview earlier this week.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon also addressed the shootings in a statement on his Facebook page.
“We will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence,” he wrote.
McMillon did not provide any specific details or plans.
While many are not optimistic, others have noted changes Walmart has made in the past. In 2015, the company stopped selling assault rifles, and following the Parkland shooting in 2018 they raised the minimum gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.