Zeynep Tufekci encourages Congress and media to reject Facebook's apologies and focus on protective legislation

April 12, 2018

UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci has spent years researching and discussing the impact of social networks on social change and the threat of unchecked data collection and exploitation by those in power. With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg under fire for the company’s data gathering practices, Tufekci has been providing context for the controversy on several national news platforms and drawing on her expertise to call for change.

Screenshots from Zeynep Tufekci's recent interviews with
PBS NewsHour, CNN, and Democracy Now.

Tufekci’s latest piece for WIRED Magazine, she illustrates how repetitive Zuckerberg’s apology tours have been and why they don’t work. In “Why Zuckerberg’s 14-Year Aplogy Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook,” published April 6, she unpacks a few of Zuckerberg’s defenses of Facebook, and cites his quote to Vox’s Ezra Klein that people that think Apple cares more about users than Facebook have “Stockholm syndrome.”

“This is an interesting argument coming from the CEO of Facebook, a company that essentially holds its users’ data hostage,” Tufekci writes.

In “We Already Know How to Protect Ourselves From Facebook," an op-ed for the New York Times published April 9, Tufekci further criticized Zuckerberg’s empty apologies and encouraged lawmakers to take action rather than giving him another chance to explain his company’s actions.

“We already know most everything we need for legislators to pass laws that would protect us from what Facebook has unleashed,” she writes before outlining what a genuine legislative remedy would need to include.

Tufekci was also invited to PBS NewsHour’s segment “How should Facebook change to protect privacy?” on April 9, where she again shared her concern that the congressional hearings would not result in change.

 “The thing I fear is that the testimony just turns into congressional spectacle, that lawmakers yell at Zuckerberg, and Mark Zuckerberg apologizes. It will feel cathartic, but that’s not the problem. This isn’t about personalities,” Tufekci said.

Opt-in data collection is how Tufekci has suggested Zuckerberg move towards a more secure, private network.

“I should affirmatively, actually consent to the way data is being collected about me,” Tufekci said. “That data should be only be collected minimized to function. It should be collected for whatever I want it to be collected for, rather than just harvested and then goes around and used for whatever.”

After the congressional hearings on Facebook started, Tufekci was interviewed by Democracy Now on the issue on April 11, in a segment titled “’Facebook Doesn’t Sell Your Data. It Sells You’: Zeynep Tufekci on How Company’s Profit Really Works.”

There, she was able to explain that, while it was interesting to see Zuckerberg’s inability to answer basic questions about Facebook’s data collection practices, that’s not really what needs to be addressed.

“What I did not really see is… what are we going to do about it?” Tufekci said. “We don’t really need Mark Zuckerberg to explain the very basics of Facebook to a bunch of Senators who don’t seem to even understand that. We need to sit down and say, ‘How do we deal with the new information commons? How do we deal with the new public sphere as it operates’?”

She gave further feedback on Zuckerberg’s testimony to Christiane Amanpour on CNN April 11, highlighting that under the current model, users cannot give informed consent, regardless of warnings or privacy settings. “How can you inform people about how this data will be used 10 years down the line?” Zeynep said. “Right now all the data Facebook has on you can be used to predict, for example, if you’re likely to be depressed or not. This is a new development. How are we supposed to consent to something that is a new development that is inferred from the data?”

This is fare from the first time Tufekci has criticized Facebook’s data collection practices. Her September 2017 New York Times op-ed “Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature,” addressed the same issues.In March, Tufekci’s New York Times op-ed “Facebook’s Surveillance Machine,” provided important context in the immediate wake of the Cambridge Analytica data siphoning scandal.

In her most recent TED Talk, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads,” Tufekci examined how data-driven algorithms developed for advertising can easily be used by governments and other powers to control people’s beliefs and behaviors.  

Watch Zeynep Tufekci speak with PBS News Hour below:

-Story by Christen Murphy, SILS Communications & Marketing Assistant