From Cambridge Analytica to 2021 whistleblower, how it's been a rough ride for Facebook in recent years

The social networking giant headed by Mark Zuckerberg has been mired in controversies — security risks, data breaches, exposures, hidden terms and backroom lobbying

It’s not been smooth sailing for social network giant Facebook. The Mark Zuckerberg-led company has been mired in a series of controversies, affecting its brand and its credibility in the market.

The latest crisis brought on by whistleblower Frances Haugen, who accuses the company of pursuing profits over safety, could just be the biggest crisis it has faced since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018.

Take a peek at the troubles the business has been facing:

The Cambridge Analytica scandal of March 2018

In March 2018, a data analytics firm — Cambridge Analytica — which worked with Donald Trump's election team, had harvested around 87 million Facebook profiles of US voters in what was termed then as one of the tech giant's biggest ever data breaches.

The data was then used to build a software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie had revealed how Facebook had been exploited to harvest millions of people’s profiles in interviews to The Guardian and The New York Times.

It was later revealed that the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

In 2019, it was announced that Facebook would be fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica shut down, citing bankruptcy.

Health details being tracked in February 2019

Wall Street Journal revealed through an investigation that Facebook was getting hold of sensitive health details even if the user does not have a Facebook account.

According to the report, that at least 11 popular apps sent personal data to Facebook, including information about a user's menstrual cycle or even their heart rate.

The revelation once again raised the issue of privacy concerns and highlighted how the social networking giant was collecting a trove of data.

Political lobbying in March 2019

In March 2019, a leak of internal documents from Zuckerberg-run company revealed that it had targeted politicians around the world — including the former UK chancellor, George Osborne — promising investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation.

Documents had revealed that such lobbying was carried out in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the European Union.

The papers revealed that the firm threatened to withhold investments from the countries if they didn't support or pass Facebook-friendly laws.

Abusive usage in April 2019

A French court in April 2019 ordered Facebook to pay 30,000 euros [$34,000] over “abusive” terms-of-use agreements that people had to accept in order to access their social media accounts.

The ruling came as France's consumer protection agency said it and the European Commission had secured Facebook's agreement to "significantly modify its terms of use" by the end of June. They will include "clear language" spelling out that Facebook makes money by allowing targeted advertising based on the contents of a user's profile.

The UFC-Que Choisir consumer group had filed its case in 2014, saying 430 clauses in Facebook's user agreement were abusive, including keeping and selling data indefinitely, even after an account is closed, and changing the terms of use without informing people.

WhatsApp security breach in May 2019

Hackers were able to install surveillance technology on the phones of WhatsApp users who answered their phone calls through the app, the Financial Times first reported.

The FT reported that the spyware was designed by Israel's NSO group, and WhatsApp said in a statement that the hack bore the hallmarks of a private organization accustomed to working with government agencies. The Israeli firm denied any involvement.

WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular messaging tools, is used by 1.5 billion people monthly. It did not disclose how many users were affected.

Data breach of April 2021

Personal data from 533 million Facebook accounts were reportedly leaked online for free in April.

As Insider reported, "The exposed data includes personal information of over 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US, 11 million on users in the UK, and 6 million on users in India."

The data included their phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birth dates, bios, and — in some cases — email addresses.

Whistleblower in September 2021

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen accused the company of concentrating more on profits than reducing hate speech and fake news and how its products contributed to the Capitol riots in Washington, in January.

She revealed that the company hindered teenage girls' mental health on Instagram and didn't create enough COVID-19 vaccine awareness.

She added that Facebook had a role to play in the 6 January Capitol Riot as the platform was used to organise after security safeguards were disabled following the US presidential elections.

With inputs from AFP

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