Just as the furor over Facebook’s past privacy transgressions have been dying down, another one comes over the transom. This new accusation, which has been confirmed by our friendly folks at Facebook (FB), is that the social media giant has been routinely for some undisclosed time period been transcribing audio conversations of its customers using its messenger service. As if FB and by association, Libra, needed another press assault on its inane ability to cross the line where privacy is concerned.
How many time’s must Facebook get its hand caught in the privacy cookie jar before it has to back away from its major payment service experiment, i.e. Libra Coin? Crypto pundits are starting to debate this issue, more than likely because guilt by association will eventually engulf the program, no matter how many corporate firewalls are built to insulate Libra from outside interference.
Why in the world would Facebook transcribe private conversations? For what purpose, and why would FB outsource the task to an unknown third party, which would be bound by its own ethical standards or lack thereof to do whatever it should so choose to make a buck? The staff at Facebook claims steadfastly that the transcribing exercise was “for the sole purpose of making sure the transcription application was performing properly”. If the application was performing properly, were there then any other intended uses for it? There is a strategic product development unit somewhere within the FB franchise that can answer this question, but it is doubtful that a spokesperson will come forward.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which erupted in March of 2018 was much more complex than basic transcription services. The third-party firm had access to mountains of FB customer profile data, but its improper use was not detected until 2015. Its data mining operation would produce demographic packages for sale to whoever might be interested in such data. Politicians looking to influence an electorate would certainly be one market, and it was actually a reporter that uncovered the shady affair, when he heard that a senator from Texas was a buyer of a said data package. It took three years to get the public’s attention, but when it happened, FB lost $100 million in market cap.
You would have thought that Mark Zuckerberg, his executive staff, and his shareholders would have gotten the message. The entire episode focused public opinion on how private personal information can be abused without its owner’s consent and was a valid “tipping point” for strengthening public awareness and protections under the law. The question is when will the next shoe drop? A reporter over at CCN recently opined: “Every week it seems like some other privacy breach is revealed in the Facebook universe. Just when it seems like an issue has been aired, or cleared, another one pops up like Whack-a-Mole.”
Is the Libra project now on the skids? Crypto enthusiasts had been overjoyed about the public awareness generated by Facebook and Libra Coin, even if most of it has gone south. FB was the first major Silicon Valley firm to embrace cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in a major way, telegraphing a message to similar companies that the future is now. Facebook’s announcement has actually put fear in the heart of Chinese officials that have rushed up their timetable for a Central Bank Digital Currency. Three different officials from the central bank have even announced to the press that they are ahead of the game and that their proprietary system is ready.
As more details come to the surface, it appears that hundreds of contractors were hired to listen and then transcribe the audio for further processing. Facebook has also stated that customers gave their permission to be recorded, but no one has spoken out to validate that they were aware of ever having done so. The company now claims to have discontinued all transcription services over a week ago. Well, imagine that?
Zuckerberg had also testified to Congress that, despite conspiracy theory rumors, FB has never used what it heard in order to target its ads. The issue, however, is trust, and if the parent company has behaved in an unethical fashion for years and only corrected its behavior after being exposed, how can Libra ever recover from the pit it is now in?