Have you seen the ad where Meta brags that it has spent enough money on user safety to build seven pro sports stadiums? Well, $16 billion over 6 years may sound like a lot… but it’s only a small fraction of Meta’s revenues, and a drop in the bucket compared to the harm their bad behavior is creating every day.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that we’ve been tracking Facebook’s behavior for years now. Watching the fines and the settlements and the penalties pile up is a sport in and of itself!
Now it’s time for an update. Here’s the latest installment of The Facebook Timeline of Scandal and Strife.
Join us on a stroll through the bombed-out planet Facebook inhabits. By the end, you’ll understand why Gretchen Peters, Executive Director for The Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime (CINTOC), says Meta’s leaders “are giving themselves an A+ score for an F- job.”
June 22, 2022
Meta Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit – but Still Thinks Algorithmic Discrimination is “Special”?
Meta has agreed to stop using its Special Ad Audience tool on housing ads following a civil rights lawsuit in which the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that the tool discriminated against individuals based on race, religion, disability, and other characteristics. Meta will also pay the maximum fine available under the Fair Housing Act, $115,054. After scrounging – not too deeply – for some sofa change to pay it off, Meta continued to congratulate itself for “unprecedented” innovations. But the Department of Justice looked past the nonsense: “Because of this ground-breaking lawsuit,” a government attorney explained, “Meta will — for the first time — change its ad delivery system to address algorithmic discrimination.” Unfortunately, history tells us that slightly steeper penalties will be necessary to keep Meta from peddling more of its “special” dog crap.
July 13, 2022
Facebook Marketplace is THE WORST, Says U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
There are numerous e-commerce platforms, but apparently none have such flagrant problems with counterfeit, recalled, and dangerous products as Facebook Marketplace, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In a letter to Zuck, the CPSC chair noted that Facebook Marketplace received half of all the takedown requests issued by the safety authority during 2020, and three-quarters of all takedown requests so far in 2022. (2021 wasn’t mentioned.) Asked by a reporter to comment, Meta said, “We are heavily invested in our approach to safety and have over 40,000 people across Meta working on safety and security.” In other words:We hired the equivalent of a small town to moderate our platforms and, gosh darn it, we STILL suck!
July 19, 2022
Facebook Rebrand Trampled Over Small Business Already Named Meta
The small business MetaX LLC has sued Facebook’s rebranded parent company for trademark infringement, which threatens to stain the original Meta’s reputation and tank its business. Founded in 2010, MetaX has produced augmented-reality and virtual-reality experiences at Coachella and SXSW, venues where new Meta products have already begun to compete. Upon rebranding, Zuck claimed his metaverse initiative would help to “unlock a massively larger creative economy.” Instead, the copycat threatens its predecessor’s existence. As MetaX’s lawsuit laments, “consumers are likely to mistakenly believe that Meta’s products and services emanate from Facebook and the toxicity that is inextricably linked with the Facebook brand.” There’s no arguing with that, but even if Facebook settles, look out for the disingenuous spin!
July 27, 2022
FTC Sues to Stop Facebook from Acquiring ANOTHER Competing App
Knowing Facebook has a history of absorbing its rivals, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued to block Meta’s acquisition of Supernatural, a boxing app for the Quest VR headset. Meta previously acquired not only the Quest gaming platform but also an app called Beat Saber, which arguably competes with Supernatural in the emerging market for virtual fitness apps. As usual, Meta denied that it stifles competition, making a grossly misleading counterclaim – “We have spent nearly a decade and invested billions of dollars in expanding the VR space.” To innovate? Or to eliminate competition? Let’s see what the FTC decides.
July 28, 2022
After Pummeling U.S. News Publishers, Meta Kicks Them While They’re Down
Meta will no longer pay U.S. publishers for headline links as it declined to renew three-year deals worth around $105 million. When launching the News Tab in 2019, Zuck touted its “new long-term, stable financial relationships” with select media partners. Now, Meta says, never mind – “it doesn’t make sense to over-invest in areas that don’t align with user preferences.” Although the about-face could increase misinformation online, it hardly comes as a surprise – tech platforms previously cannibalized journalism to fuel their hypergrowth. As time has shown again and again, Meta only ever helps itself – at everyone else’s expense.
August 2, 2022
Meta Collected Private Health Information Without Consent
A pixel may sound innocuous – but the Meta Pixel has been collecting private health information in violation of federal law, according to two lawsuits seeking class-action certification. Meta pretends user privacy is a high priority, boasting on its website, “We’re giving you more control over your privacy choices, and holding ourselves accountable for keeping your data secure.” In actuality, the lawsuits allege, the tech behemoth used the Meta Pixel to capture personal medical information. An investigation by The Markup found the Meta Pixel on websites for one-third of the top 100 U.S. hospitals. According to another count, the Meta Pixel has compromised private data held by 664 different healthcare providers, meaning every single Facebook user who has a patient record at those institutions could be affected. At least one patient reported receiving ads based on her documented medical conditions. Clearly, Meta realized our private health information is valuable – for microtargeting.
August 4, 2022
Meta Changes Serve Anti-Creative Agenda
Recent changes to Facebook and Instagram are harmful to creatives, according to musician and Patreon CEO Jack Conte. Previously, Meta’s algorithms promoted content based on follower networks. Now, as the company scrambles to compete against TikTok, Meta has shifted toward AI-curated feeds. The consequence, Conte predicted, will be to undermine communities that creatives have cultivated over many years. As he remarked, “This seems over the long run like Meta fighting creators, instead of respecting that creators run the show now. And that, I don’t think, is a winning strategy.” Let’s hope not – because we creatives have never “run the show” at Meta… but things could always get worse!
August 10, 2022
Facebook Profits from White Supremacy, Surfaces Targets for Violent Racists
While Meta says it prohibits hate speech and white supremacist content, the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) showed that Facebook serves ads on searches for banned groups, surfaces targets for violent extremists, and auto-generates racist pages. The TTP study focused on 75 well-known white supremacist organizations operating on Facebook. Then, TTP searched related keywords, discovering that Facebook monetized them through ads. And we’re not talking about ambiguous search terms like national. We’re talking about Aryan and Ku Klux Klan. Alarmingly, the ads featured not only major brands but also Black churches, which have been frequent targets for domestic terrorists. Of 119 racist pages that TTP found, 20% of them appeared to have been automatically generated by Facebook to drive traffic. So Facebook claims it spent $16 billion on safety – and, at the same time, they are monetizing hate like this?
September 5, 2022
Meta Published Children’s Contact Info, Putting Them at Risk
While pediatricians have been working hard to teach parents or guardians how to warn children about “stranger danger,” Meta published children’s contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers. Therefore, the Irish Data Protection Commission has fined Meta over $400 million under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meta claims it has already tightened privacy measures for teens on Instagram – supposedly, children under 13 aren’t allowed – but age verification that relies on self-reporting can’t really provide parents with a whole lot of comfort. And even after Meta supposedly fixed child safety problems, a researcher found that Facebook still readily recommended preteen predation groups. In her own words: “The platform can be quicker at recommending groups built around child predation than it is to remove them.” W. T. F!!!
September 14, 2022
To Celebrate 31st Congressional Hearing, Meta Shares Only Talking Points
C-suite executives from Meta and other social media companies frustrated U.S. Senators again today as they gave misleading and evasive testimony to the Homeland Security Committee. In an opening statement, Meta’s Chief Product Officer boasted, “We invested around $5 billion on safety and security last year alone – more than any other tech company, even adjusted for scale.” Unfazed, Senators cited damning reports from journalists and independent researchers, grilled Meta on content moderation, and otherwise repelled its sophomoronic hoodwinkery. (We had to coin new words for these heinous rich turds, who try to mislead Congress and shirk civic duty.) As Reuters observed, this Congressional hearing was Meta’s 31st in just 5 years. Someday, somehow, some way, all this talk needs to lead to Congressional action.
September 22, 2022
Meta Owes U.S. Army Veteran Over $170 Million for Patent Infringement, Says Federal Jury
A federal jury has ordered Meta to pay over $170 million in damages for patent infringement to U.S. Army veteran Tom Katis, founder of Walkie Talkie app maker Voxer. Katis began developing his communications technology during military service in Afghanistan. After completing it in 2011, Katis entered licensing negotiations with Facebook. When the negotiations failed, Facebook redefined Voxer as a competitor, denied it access to important features, and unilaterally incorporated Katis’ technology to launch Facebook Live in 2015. Katis complained to a Facebook executive in February 2016, but instead of making things right, the tech behemoth launched Instagram Live in November 2016, stealing from Katis again. But who could be surprised? When Meta tells you that it cares about intellectual property, that’s like a cryptocurrency exchange telling investors, “Sure, you can trust us with your money.”
September 30, 2022
Erotic Novel Apps Posted Violent and Infringing Ads
In another content moderation shitshow, Meta failed to remove numerous ads depicting abuse, rape, and self-harm. The ads were purchased by erotic novel apps from ByteDance’s and Tencent’s investment portfolios, but the Chinese companies have denied responsibility. Forbes reports, “Meta, for its part, has appeared largely incapable of halting this flood of violent fantasy erotica ads that violate its rules.” Since many ads include images stolen from movies, television shows, or social media influencers, they also violate policies against copyright infringement. Perhaps, somewhere deep inside Meta’s deranged binary code, innumerable wrongs make a right?
Yep, Gretchen Peters of CINTOC had it right – we are more than ready to join her in slapping an F-minus on Meta’s work.
But that doesn’t stop the Meta spin machine. In testimony to the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, a Meta stooge bragged that its algorithms catch 97% of terrorist content. We’ve seen many impressive assertions like that. In their so-called Transparency Reports, where Meta likes to say it removes almost 100% of dangerous or illegal content before any person complains.
But as Gretchen Peters tweeted, studies by independent researchers indicate that Meta removes, at most, 20% of terrorist content.
That’s why her F- grade resonated with us. But when Meta fails, it’s the rest of us who get hurt. It’s time for that to change.