Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has become an expert at telling the public one thing, and doing the exact opposite when the cameras are off.
Nine years ago — a year before the movie The Social Network even came out — Mark Zuckerberg did an interview with BBC in which he explicitly stated that any and all content a Facebook user puts on the platform remains that individual user’s property. Legendary whistleblower and prominent fugitive Edward Snowden tweeted video of the 2009 exchange and encouraged his 3.7 million followers to distribute it to Facebook users:
Facebook: "This is their information. They own it"
BBC: "And you won’t sell it?"
FB: "No! Of course not."
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 27, 2018
MARK ZUCKERBERG: This is their information, they own it.
BBC: And you won’t sell it?
ZUCKERBERG: No, of course not. They want to share it with only a few people.
BBC: So just to be clear, you’re not going to sell or share any of the information on Facebook?
ZUCKERBERG: What the terms say is just, we’re not going to share people’s information except for the people that they’ve asked for it to be shared.
Of course, this is an obvious lie. Even though Facebook’s Help site still currently pledges that they “don’t sell any of your information and we never will,” the company has gotten creative in the astronomical amount of data it sells, which netted the company almost $8 billion in revenue just in the third quarter of 2017 alone. According to Investopedia, Facebook sells users’ data anonymously in bulk to advertisers in “demographic buckets” based on categories like age, location, income, sexual orientation, religion, and political affiliation.
But Facebook doesn’t stop there. Have you noticed how whenever you Google certain consumer goods, ads for those products show up in your feed? That’s because Facebook also sells advertisers bulk data sets containing your internet browsing history (you have to manually opt out in order to keep that data from reaching advertisers).
Mark Zuckerberg’s duplicity plumbed new depths when, last weekend, the Facebook mogul took out full-page ads in major national newspapers in the United States and the United Kingdom pledging to handle Facebook users’ data with more care in the wake of the embarrassing Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” Zuckerberg said in the ads. “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”
However, Facebook is quietly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting a new ballot initiative in California that would allow users to have final say over how their data is used. According to CalMatters, Facebook, Google, Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have collectively spent $1 million (Facebook donated $200,000) opposing the California Consumer Privacy ActBBC
BBC, which will be on the state ballot this November, assuming it collects enough signatures to meet the threshold. If passed this November, the Act would require companies display a button on their website allowing users to opt out of having their personal data sold to or shared with advertisers.
“What we are proposing is some very basic rights: Let people find out what information companies are collecting, and let them have the ability to say, ‘Don’t sell my information,'” San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart told CalMatters in reference to his campaign. Mactaggart, who has reportedly spent $1.7 million promoting the initiative, got the idea for the campaign after talking to a Google engineer at a party who said users would “freak out” if they knew how much personal information Google collected.
Mark Zuckerberg has a reason to fight the initiative, as he’s made his fortune by selling Facebook users’ data to advertisers. Zuckerberg has a personal net worth of approximately $34 billion, ranking him #11 on the Forbes 400 list.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.