The Zuckerberg empire is burning from all directions at once. Yes, the man who once called his users “dumb fucks” for entrusting him to be the steward of their personal data is in the midst of a disastrous and very public reckoning. Take a moment to process this unexpected turn of events if you must.
The epitome of Silicon Valley hubris, Zuckerberg so richly deserves to be forever clowned on for the utter gracelessness with which he tripped and continues to trip over his own dick. Since the scandal of Cambridge Analytica became international news, teams of expensive lawyers and public relationship professionals haven’t stopped the World’s Least Charismatic CEO from digging himself a hole big enough to fit, say, a 700-acre waterfront estate in.
Lawmakers, users, investors—all of them have very legitimate bones to pick with Facebook, such that it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep track of just which entities are currently threatening to depose tech’s boy-king. For your convenience, we’ve compiled them all here, and will continue to update them as this data fusking saga unfolds.
The US Federal Trade Commission
Back in 2011, Facebook settled charges laid out by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it had “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.” Part of settling that regulatory hiccup involved Facebook agreeing not to do that again.
Something about Cambridge Analytica obtaining the data of around 50 million Facebook users made the FTC think Facebook welched on that agreement, and acting director Tom Pahl on Monday confirmed that the FTC had opened an investigation into the company’s practices.
People With Lawyers
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook can’t stop getting sued. Of this rash of lawsuits, three come from shareholders who argue the company made false or misleading claims about the safety of its data that led to public fallout, which tanked the value of its stock—a thing shareholders tend to care about the price of. (Facebook has lost an estimated $100 billion (£71 billion) in under two weeks.)
A fourth and fifth came from non-shareholding Facebook users, alleging the company failed to protect their data despite knowing about Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of data on some 50 million users. Keep in mind, all five are class-actions that may eventually be joined by additional plaintiffs.
Another suit was filed Monday by Cook County in the US state of Illinois, and calls Facebook “the largest data mining operation in existence.” The Street reported three more class-action suits after this, and yet another was filed Tuesday afternoon. Four subsequent lawsuits followed, bringing the total number of lawsuits to fourteen. One (Zellmer v. Facebook Inc.) came from a plaintiff who “does not have, and has never had, a Facebook account.”
Facebook, despite frequent and hollow references to a “community,” is at its core very much what Cook Country describes: a business that mines personal data to sell to advertisers. And unsurprisingly, it has cornered an outsized portion of the digital advertising industry. About 60 per cent of online advertising revenue in the US is split between just two companies: Facebook and Google.
It may not be a sea change yet, but a number of companies have already pulled advertising from Facebook. Those include the Mozilla Foundation, Pep Boys, Sonos, and German bank Commerzbank. Maybe they’ll come back into the fold at some later date, and maybe not.
The US Federal Elections Commission
Back in November when the general public thought Facebook was, at worst, a vehicle for propaganda through ads and posts made by political operatives, the US Federal Elections Commission (FEC) started looking into the company’s policies on advertorial transparency. Unsurprisingly, that’s still ongoing.
Congress and Parliament
As a recent and staggeringly awkward CNN interview reminded the American people, Mark Zuckerberg is fucking awful at public speaking. In nearly identical statements to CNN, Wired, and the New York Times, he danced around the idea of testifying before Congress—claiming he might not be “the person at Facebook who [would] have the most knowledge.” The last time Facebook had the privilege of being grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, that person with the most knowledge was, it seems, company lawyer Colin Stretch.
At long last Mark’s day has arrived, as, in light of recent events, both the US Congress and Parliament feel he’s eminently qualified to be raked over the coals. Zuckerberg has already declined to appear before Parliament. That august governing body helpfully suggested he testify via video link.
Don’t even worry, though. Facebook—a company definitely not embroiled in a scandal due to its handling of sensitive data—has said it wasn’t looking at your chats.
It’s difficult to estimate how big the #DeleteFacebook movement is, or how many users have actually abandoned Zuckerberg’s walled garden. What we can say, however, is that trust in Facebook is low, and the company’s actions aren’t doing much to repair it.
What could have caused this? Perhaps the revelation that a platform already embroiled in scandal around its attempts to influence America's 2016 election was linked to a firm that was generously funded in part by Breitbart funder Robert Mercer, and patronised by political organisations linked to current Trump National Security Advisor-designate John Bolton, and Trump transition team member Peter Thiel. (Thiel secretly funded a lawsuit that led to the bankruptcy of Gizmodo US’s former parent company, Gawker Media.)
Also possible: the company’s decision to take out full-page ads in 10 different newspapers that forewarned of additional data-sucking apps on its platform, all under the guise of an apology. (Way to stick the landing, guys.)
It could also be Zuckerberg’s utterly clinical Facebook posts, and total inability to establish anything approaching a sincere emotional connection while doing important CEO things, like apologising to 50 million people.
Who can say! But the fact remains: Mark, people are feeling a little burned.