‘The Heat is On’ is a Glenn Frey song made famous by the 1980’s TV show ‘Miami Vice.’ Given all the news about how Facebook data was improperly used to manipulate hundreds of millions of people in elections, the song’s title is an apt description of the environment that the social media giant is currently facing.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, added her voice to the growing chorus of powerful government leaders demanding answers from Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
May’s spokesperson told the British press that she is supporting a full government investigation by the British Information Commissioner.
This new “heat” on Facebook was prompted by the reports of a whistleblower from the data firm Cambridge Analytica who said the company had improperly obtained private data from over 50 million Facebook profiles (and their Facebook friends) which was then used in a program they developed to do “psychographic” targeting.
“The allegations are clearly very concerning. It’s essential people can have confidence that their personal data can be protected and used in an appropriate way,” May’s spokesman said.
“So it is absolutely right the information commissioner is investigating this matter and we expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all the organisations involved to cooperate fully.”
The British Secretary of Culture, Matt Hancock, spoke at the House of Commons, saying that the charges against Facebook were “clearly very worrying” and the British government is currently looking at adding powers, including the legal ability to impose further criminal sanctions and to compel testimony from individuals.
“I thought their actions were outrageous,” he said. “Facebook executives have some serious questions to answer here, and they will tell their side of the story. And to answer it by blocking [the whistleblower’s] account, when we know in this house they do not act fast enough to block other accounts of obviously outrageous behaviour, I’ll tell you what, it shows that when they need to they can block things incredibly quickly and they will need to do a lot more that.”
The European parliament president, Antonio Tajani, said on Monday that the European Union would also investigate the allegations against Facebook fully. Tajani said that “allegations of misuse of Facebook user data is an unacceptable violation of our citizens’ privacy rights”.
In the United States, various government leaders, have also been putting the heat on Facebook, and CEO Zuckerberg. The Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee have called for their own investigations into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
On Monday the stock markets provided their own punishment of Facebook’s misdeeds, as the publicly traded company’s stock price dropped nearly 8%, which means that the shareholders of Facebook lost approximately $40 billion in stock value in a single day.
Soon it will not just be government leaders from around the world demanding answers from Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives. Facebook shareholders will also be wanting answers to some very tough questions about the social media giant’s improper use of customer data.
Ultimately what everyone will want to know is this: What is Facebook doing to make sure that these kinds of data breaches don’t ever happen again?
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.