Updated Apr 6, 2018

Facebook drowning in controversy ahead of mega-hearings

Photo by Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images

It's not just Cambridge Analytica. Facebook can’t escape a tide of criticism over the way it harvests user data, even as it looks to mitigate the scandal that started it all.

Why it matters: The company is preparing for two high-stakes hearings next week where CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be grilled by lawmakers who think he didn’t properly handle abuse of the platform.

The latest: TechCrunch reported Friday that Facebook retracted messages by Zuckerberg and other executives from recipients’ inboxes. When asked by TechCrunch about it, Facebook claimed it was done for corporate security in light of the SONY hacks in 2014.

  • April 5 — Patient care data controversy: CNBC reported Thursday that Facebook sent a doctor on a secret mission to ask hospitals to anonymously share patient data. The company said that it put the project on pause last month after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke on March 16.
  • April 5 - Civil society groups in Myanmar criticized Zuckerberg, arguing that he mischaracterized his company’s effectiveness at detecting and squashing messages that encouraged violence in the country, The New York Times reported.
  • April 4 — Messenger snooping: Bloomberg reported that Facebook evaluates links and images sent in Messenger as part of its content moderation practices, surprising some.
  • March 29- April 2 — Cook vs. Zuck: Apple CEO Tim Cook took a big swipe at Facebook, saying he “wouldn’t be in this situation,” referring to Facebook's privacy scandal. Earlier that week, Cook called for more privacy regulation in light of the controversy. Zuckerberg responded Monday by calling Cook's argument "extremely glib."
  • March 29 — The Boz memo: "The Ugly," a June 2016 internal Facebook memo by Facebook VP Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, was revealed by BuzzFeed. "Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools,” it read. Zuckerberg had to release a statement saying he didn't agree with the memo. Boz said even he didn't believe what he was writing at the time, but aimed to provoke discussion.
  • March 28 — Draft videos: New York Magazine reported that Facebook users are realizing the platform had saved videos that were recorded by its users but never sent. The company later said the videos were saved because of a "bug" and would be deleted.
  • March 25 — Android data controversy: Some Android users reported that they found Facebook logging calls and texts sent from their Android phones. Facebook denied that it ever collected call data surreptitiously.
  • March 19 — Alex Stamos departure leak: The New York Times reported that Facebook's chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, was leaving the company after clashing with colleagues on how to handle disclosures of Russian activity on Facebook.

The company's business has seen some disruptions amid the controversy.

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg admitted Thursday that some advertisers have paused their campaigns in response to the drama. That news came after several advertisers made announcements that they would do so.
  • Bloomberg reported last week that Facebook is delaying its planned introduction of an always-listening smart speaker due to the swirl of privacy concerns.
  • Facebook's stock is still down significantly from its peak before the scandal broke less than a month ago.

Facebook has acknowledged it is under more pressure than before, but a company source said that "the pace and breadth of the company’s responses have quickened ... as an indication of how seriously we take this."

The good news for Menlo Park: Facebook has seen a few positive headlines. The company had its ad metrics credentialed by the industry watchdog Thursday. President Trump has been railing against Amazon, but hasn't made a peep about Facebook. And some observers thought Zuckerberg sounded confident and knowledgeable on a recent press call.

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