Examining Facebook and the case for privacy

What happens when a major social media platform's business model abuses user trust?

RITA GUNTHER MCGRATH: I got interested in Facebook oh, this is probably going back a few years now and when I proposed using Facebook as an example in the book my editor actually said whoa, you think Facebook is going to have a problem? And I said I mean if you believe in early warnings, yes, because all the handwriting was on the wall in the sense of you have a very insular senior team. You have an addictive and very, very profitable business model that's based on questionable respect for people's privacy. You have many, many users who really don't understand what their data is being used for. They don't understand that Facebook owns it. I mean you think you own that baby picture you posted. You don't. They do. And they're basically asking you to sign away your rights for that kind of content that you create yourself.

So, you've got this business model, which I honestly think has run away with the founders. I don't think the founders of Facebook and its senior team kind of expected the unintended consequences. So the ability to use their targeting tools to influence elections, for example, or to flout laws like the Fair Housing Act. As a landlord, for example, you can post advertisements on Facebook that are actually illegal. But we haven't figured out how to regulate them. And I'm not saying Facebook is inherently an evil organization. I do think that they have in many cases abused people's trust and their willingness to do so is indicated very, very early on in one of the earliest investigations of Facebook's practices and email that I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg never intended to see the light of day was revealed in which he said oh, you know, if you want to know anything about students at Harvard just ask. And his counterpart said how do you get all this stuff? He said they just gave it to me. And then a few expletives after that. It's indicative of an attitude about privacy that I think is only now coming to be commonly understood. I think it has the potential to get the company in real trouble.

  • Facebook has been in plenty of hot water lately with user data scandal.
  • Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath says the early warning signs were there when considering the social media platform's business model and attitude toward user privacy.
  • When users don't understand the extent of content ownership, and the platform they're using is willing to abuse that trust, a lot can go wrong.

Venetian council room floods after councilors reject climate proposals

In a metaphor too apt to be made up, the council has been forced to relocate until the flood waters recede.

(Photo: Andrea Zanoni/Facebook)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The City of Venice is currently enduring the worst flooding to strike it in 50 years.
  • The mayor has declared it to be a result of climate change.
  • During a debate over next years budget, and right after rejecting environmental proposals, the main chamber of the regional council flooded.
Keep reading Show less

Space hotel with artificial gravity will be in orbit by 2025

The Von Braun Space Station, based on the concepts of a controversial scientist, is moving ahead with construction plans.

Credit: on Braun Space Station.
Technology & Innovation
  • The Gateway Foundation is building a space hotel, based on the concepts of a Nazi and American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
  • The space station is expected to be operational by 2025.
  • The company plans to assemble it in orbit, using robots and drones.
Keep reading Show less

The world now has an Ebola vaccine, in historic EU approval

The vaccine is 97.5% effective in protecting against the Zaire species of Ebola, according to the World Health Organization.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Surprising Science
  • The European Medicines Agency granted special approval for an Ebola vaccine called Ervebo.
  • Ervebo has proven remarkably effective in clinical trials conducted in Africa.
  • An Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018.
Keep reading Show less