After that news broke, the N.A.A.C.P. called for a one-day boycott of Facebook. In a statement, Derrick Johnson, the president and chief executive officer of the N.A.A.C.P., said, “Facebook needs to acknowledge how it has undervalued people of color over the past two years.”
In Facebook’s telling, it grew so fast that it failed to protect its customers, but now that it is a behemoth, with a greater awareness of its responsibility, the company is doing all it can to mend those holes. Last spring, after Facebook was found to have allowed its users’ private data to get into the hands of Cambridge Analytica, the Facebook chairman and C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg, visited Congress and vowed to restore control to ordinary users. “This is the most important principle for Facebook,” he said. “Every piece of content that you share on Facebook you own, and you have complete control over who sees it, and how you share it, and you can remove it at any time.” When Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, testified before Congress, in September, she said the company was now doing all that it could to prevent foreign governments from interfering in American elections: “We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act. That’s on us.”
The clarity of those declarations becomes a problem when Facebook’s actions tell another story. On Tuesday, an investigation by the Times revealed that Facebook gave other big tech companies “more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed.” For example, Facebook gave Netflix and Spotify the power to read Facebook users’ private messages. The goal was to let Facebook users share music and entertainment recommendations; there is no evidence that Spotify and Netflix were reading people’s mail. (Both companies said that they were unaware of the access levels that Facebook had granted them.)
But the case reflects a fundamental problem: Facebook was so determined to grow, and to cement the commercial partnerships that would help it grow, that it didn’t pause to build tools that could parcel out narrow slices of information. In other instances, it opened the spigot on private information and forgot to close it. As a result, it once again betrayed its users’ confidence. On Wednesday, a former Facebook staffer who is familiar with those cases told me, “It was chaos. There was no set of principles that says this is how we do things and how we do not do things. They would forget to shut things down, literally for years.”
In a response to the Times story, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, conceded that “we’ve needed tighter management” of data sharing but stood by the company’s claim that “none of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission.” After two years of declining public confidence, that’s an astonishingly obtuse thing to say. Users did have to check a box to integrate Facebook and Spotify. But does Facebook really believe that users understood that it would give Spotify the right to read private messages? On Twitter, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote, “Opening someone else’s mail is a federal crime. Why is @Facebook allowed to let Netflix and Spotify open your private messages? Mark Zuckerberg might think of this as just “data,” but this is people’s private lives. We need a law to protect Americans’ sensitive information.”
Which brings us back to Holiday Inn and the cost of losing trust. How many violations does it take for people to think twice before they decide to do business with someone? Simons told me, “Trust is the willingness to accept vulnerability. In a personal relationship, it is the willingness to self-disclose and be honest. For Facebook, it is the very willingness of the informed to participate in their platform.”
The trust calculus can be subtle, but, over time, it shapes behavior. In September, the Pew Research Center reported that forty-two per cent of Americans who use the Web site said that they had at some point taken a break of at least several weeks from Facebook; twenty-six per cent said that they had deleted it from their phones. Since then, Facebook has suffered the largest data breach in its history, which affected an estimated fifty million users. Last month, the Times revealed that Facebook asked a political opposition-research firm to investigate and undercut its critics, in particular George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks.
© [The New Yorker] (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/how-much-trust-can-facebook-afford-to-lose)