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Facebook Wants to Be Better About Privacy, Just Not With These 1.5 Billion Users

The social media giant is changing its terms of service to put 70 percent of its users "out of reach" of the European Union's sweeping new privacy law

Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent several hours of congressional testimony this month insisting that his company is seriously dedicated to improving user privacy protections in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but these rhetorical gestures have been undermined by the social media giant's ongoing efforts to deny privacy protections to a staggering 70 percent of its users worldwide.

"If the company succeeds in dodging the GDPR outside the E.U., users will be subject to lax U.S. privacy standards, which would allow the company to continue collecting data."
—Tom McKay, Gizmodo

According to a Reuters report on Wednesday, Facebook is changing its terms of service to "put 1.5 billion users out of reach" of the European Union's sweeping new privacy law, which will require companies to receive clear consent from users before mining their data and impose hefty fines on companies that violate the strict standards.

"Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company's international headquarters in Ireland," Reuters explains. "Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25."

As for the hundreds of millions of Facebook users in the U.S. and Canada, they will benefit from the E.U.'s new privacy standards only if the company decides to extend them to North America.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Zuckerberg provoked ridicule by declaring that his company will only adhere to the stringent new standards outside of Europe "in spirit."

""People's lives are [Facebook's] product. That's why Zuckerberg couldn't tell U.S. lawmakers to hurry up and draft their own GDPR. He's the CEO saddled with trying to sell an anti-privacy, anti-transparency position."

"If the company succeeds in dodging the GDPR outside the E.U., users will be subject to lax U.S. privacy standards, which would allow the company to continue collecting data," notes Gizmodo's Tom McKay. "(Given that Congress is currently controlled by Republicans allergic to regulation, it seems unlikely anything about that is going to change on a legislative level following Zuckerberg's testimony before them earlier this month.)"

Facebook's terms of service change comes as the company is still under intense scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, which exposed the personal data of more than 80 million users. Additionally, as Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Facebook admitted that "malicious actors" have mined the personal information of most of its two billion users.

In an article on Wednesday, Natasha Lomas of Techcrunch notes that the heightened attention to Facebook's lax privacy standards has highlighted the "ugly underlying truth of Facebook's business," which is that it "relies on surveillance to function."

"People's lives are its product," Lomas writes. "That's why Zuckerberg couldn't tell U.S. lawmakers to hurry up and draft their own GDPR. He's the CEO saddled with trying to sell an anti-privacy, anti-transparency position—just as policymakers are waking up to what that really means."

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