Three Senators have sent letters to Facebook, Google and Apple, in regards to the privacy issues that were highlighted last week. It came to the attention of, well everyone, that Facebook and Google were bypassing Apple's Enterprise Certificate program to have users install apps that were basically spying on them and giving all of their information to Facebook and/or Google. Apple quickly clamped down and shut off the certificates for both companies.
Now Congress wants to get involved. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley all set emails to Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google's senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems Hiroshi Lockheimer and Apple's CEO Time Cook.
It may be a bit interesting to see that Apple also got a letter looking for answers, but this is likely due to two things. How Apple didn't know that thousands if not millions of people were using that Enterprise Certificate. But also, due to Apple basically regulating these two companies by shutting down their certificates.
According to the Senators, these news stories that hit last week "fit with longstanding concerns that Facebook has used its products to deeply intrude in personal privacy. The Senators want answers from both Facebook and Google, and want them by March 1. Facebook was also asked how many participants were under the age of 18. Seeing as Facebook was actually targeting teenagers with some being as young as 13, that makes it a much bigger deal.
The fact that Facebook and Google were doing this right under everyone's noses is not a surprise – maybe slightly more of a surprise that Google was doing it. But as the Senators said in their letters, this is something that Facebook has been doing for a while. Violating user's privacy. In fact, Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress last summer in regards to privacy, and it looks like that didn't even matter.
In the testimony, Zuckerberg actually asked for regulation in that area. Right now, there is virtually no regulation over Facebook or Google. That is likely going to be changing rather soon, especially after what has happened in the last year or so. It's clear that Facebook definitely needs some regulation, or it is going to continue to violate users' trust and exploit the data that they collect from users.
Data is necessary, for both of these companies to continue to offer their products for free, and to sell ads. Don't forget that Facebook and Google are the two biggest advertisers on the internet – Google is number one with Facebook close behind it. Collecting data allows both of these companies to sell ads more effectively, and get more people clicking on these ads – making advertisers happy. Without this data, selling ads would be a lot less profitable. But there has to be a way to do this better, perhaps even doing it as an opt-in thing for more information.
Collecting the data is likely not the biggest issue here. We've known Facebook was collecting data all along. But the fact that it was done in such a shady way, is an issue.