Facebook’s Data Sales, Safety & Privacy

Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog
Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Blog

Wow.   Not Afraid?  I’m not so sure.

Facebook has been building a research project that would collect, analyse, and likely sell the insights of a mash of Facebook user’s behaviors and medical information. Facebook approached at least eight of health organizations including Stanford Medical School and the American College of Cardiology.

The plan was to use blind data from both Facebook and healthcare providers and with hashing, match them up.  What is hashing?   Facebook information about a user like their age, whether they’re married and have kids, what language they speak primarily and how often they engage with friends or family online would be matched to health data, such as age, medical conditions, prescribed medications and how often they visit the doctor. Researchers would then look to see if the added social media information might help improve patient care. For example, finding a patient doesn’t have family or friends nearby might be found to necessitate a nurse checking on that patient at home following a surgery.  But, I ask, can’t a hospital social worker have a conversation with a patient about their needs instead of relying of purchased data and bots?  Don’t medical professionals know their patient’s age, marital status, and what langauge they speak?  Isn’t it a good thing to talk to a patient and establish a real relationship?

“The medical industry has long understood that there are general health benefits to having a close-knit circle of family and friends. But deeper research into this link is needed to help medical professionals develop specific treatment and intervention plans that take social connection into account,” Facebook said in a statement. It added that last month, it decided to temporarily halt the project “so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”

Right.  As many as 87 million Facebook users’ data were improperly obtained by political firm Cambridge Analytica, many more than the 50 million affected users initially reported.

Facebook was never free.  We give our behavioral, personal, financial information to Facebook in exchange for the illusion that we are “connected.”   Facebook crunches our data and uses it as a commodity.   Who reads or understands the terms of service?  Not many.  Most users see the Facebook experience like a giant mixer or reunion.   And it is a way to find like minds and motivate behavior, and Facebook profits from selling the means to do just that.

The Cambridge Analytica story pales in my mind to the way that social media platforms have been used to empower terrorist groups.   And now, Facebook, Twitter, and other companies are being sued for profiting from connecting terrorists.

Mandy Palmucci traveled to France in the fall of 2015 to run a marathon.  On Nov. 13, 2015, she was at the LaBelle Equipe café where 19 people died.

That account of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris is contained in a new lawsuit Palmucci filed in federal court in Chicago aimed at Twitter, Facebook and Google. It accuses all three — as well Google’s YouTube — of not just aiding, but profiting from, ISIS’ use of their websites.

Without the social media platforms, the “growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” it alleges.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the dismissal of a similar lawsuit in federal court in California.  The San Bernadino massacre case against Twitter and Facebook is winding its way through Court.  SanBernadino-complaint  but Palmucci’s lawyer, Keith Altman, believes the law in the 7th U.S. Circuit where Palmucci’s case is filed is favorable.


She filed her lawsuit Wednesday, citing the Antiterrorism Act.

It alleges that ISIS accounts on Twitter have grown “at an astonishing rate” and that, as of December 2014, the terrorism group had roughly 70,000 Twitter accounts — 79 officially — posting 90 tweets a minute.

It said ISIS used the platforms “to specifically threaten France that it would be attacked for participating in a coalition of nations against ISIS, to celebrate smaller attacks leading up to these major attacks, and to transform the operational leaders of the Paris attacks into ‘celebrity’ among jihadi terrorists.”

The 128-page complaint lays out ISIS’ historical use of social media sites, citing among other cases the beheading of American journalist James Foley that appeared on YouTube in August 2014.

The lawsuit alleges not only that the social media sites give the group “a sense of authenticity and legitimacy,” but that it is a vehicle for ISIS to seek out financial donations. Additionally, it alleges the companies “routinely profit from ISIS” through ads on ISIS postings that “are not placed randomly.”

Supplying data to hack elections, selling targeted recruiting ads for terrorists, and harvesting medical records.   Facebook is a data mining company for profit and you are the crop to harvest.  Let’s no longer chose to ignore that reality.


1 Comment

  1. Excellent post. This is a story that is getting far less publicity than it deserves. I am disappointed that our mainline media organizations are too focused on the political appeal of the CA story, and ignoring this. I hope the 7th Circuit suit survives a Motion to Dismiss, as we badly need discovery on how the IS and AQ social media posts are identified, the level to which Twitter, FB et al are aware they are jihadi websites, and what steps, if any, have been taken to take them down.

    Though these sites “feel” like public squares, and therefore trigger squeamishness in most Americans who fear “censorship,” I take a different view. I agree the US government (or others) have limited power to compel these private companies to police their pages. But as private organizations, every social media platform retains all necessary power to decide who gets to post and who does not. They should not hide behind ideological expressions of love of “free expression” when they know where the jihadi (or, trafficking, etc.) sites are and how to shut them down.

    Liked by 1 person

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