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The recent public outcry against Facebook’s privacy practices has been accompanied by potentially serious allegations from a whistleblower alleging that the company “actively suppressed conservative news stories.” The whistleblower, who went by the pseudonym “Ruby”, reportedly worked on Facebook’s Trending Topics team in 2018 before leaving the company. Her claims, if proven true, raise numerous questions about Facebook’s operating procedures, online censorship policies and editorial standards.

This article takes a closer look at Ruby’s allegations and outlines the points of her accusation against Facebook:

  1. Examine Ruby’s case against Facebook as she detailed it in her allegation letter.
  2. Take a look at what we know about how Facebook has operated historically in terms of its news sorting algorithms, content moderation policies and internal editorial practices.
  3. Consider how regulators might address these issues if they investigate further into the controversy.

Background of the Whistleblower

The whistleblower at the centre of an ongoing investigation into Facebook’s operating practices is a former employee who worked at the company for eight years, beginning in 2011. The individual, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from the social media giant, has revealed information about Facebook’s privacy policies, data collection and tracking activities, and its role in influencing political campaigns and elections worldwide.

The whistleblower alleged that Facebook continues to collect personal data from users despite assurances that the company would not do so. They also alleged that the company remained aware of records being sold to third parties and failed to take action against those responsible. Additionally, they claim that Facebook allowed advertisers easy access to their databases and did not take sufficient measures to protect user privacy.

The whistleblower further claimed that Facebook had used its marketing strategies to target younger users – including minors – without their knowledge or consent. This included targeted advertising campaigns to reach vulnerable groups with controversial products such as sugary drinks and cigarettes. Additionally, they alleged that Facebook had been complicit in foreign election interference by allowing automated systems that spread misinformation or provoked hate speech.

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Facebook has broadly rejected all allegations brought forward by the whistleblower and launched an internal investigation into the situation to determine whether their claims are correct or false. In response, many individuals have called for stricter regulations on tech companies such as Facebook to protect user data privacy more effectively.

Facebook ‘operating in the shadows’ says whistleblower as US lawmakers demand probes

A whistleblower has made serious allegations against Facebook, claiming the social media giant has been operating in the shadows and is hiding critical information from the public. This revelation has prompted US lawmakers to call for an investigation into the company’s internal practices.

Let’s explore these allegations in more detail:

Operating in the shadows

As the outcry continues surrounding Facebook’s questionable conduct during the 2016 US Election, it has become increasingly apparent the importance of understanding how the company operates daily. In October 2019, well-known whistleblower Chris Wylie publicly announced that Facebook’s reckless operating procedures had allowed Cambridge Analytica to manoeuvre its way around legitimate measures protecting user privacy. With this news came a sink in consumer trust and an exponential increase in government intervention into Facebook’s practices.

What exactly do we know about Facebook’s operations? First, according to Wylie, many procedures were conducted with “no written or electronic trail”; large-scale decisions would be made without any public or regulatory scrutiny, this includes data mining on citizens without their knowledge or consent. He also highlights that hundreds of nameless engineers worked on algorithms pulling large volumes of data from different sources and channels to target ads at individuals during elections. Lastly he suggested that some new contracts with corporate sponsors had been arranged outside any formal ethics process as part of an opaque program for top clients.

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The underlying message is clear- operating in the shadows allowed business to be completed. Still, it also left key decisions relatively untethered from regulatory control and legally permissible boundaries regarding user privacy. Moreover, since these operations were confidential and off record they operate in a degree of informality that lacked oversight until now as public accountability increases due to Wylie’s disclosures. It should come as no surprise then why tech giants like Facebook have experienced widespread criticism over the last few months from consumers, companies, NGOs and countries alike for the way they have been collecting, storing and using personal information – doing so illicitly has only hurt those impacted by these intrusive practices.

Data collection and sharing

Recent allegations by a former Facebook employee have raised questions about the company’s data collection and sharing practices. In particular, the whistleblower has raised concerns about Facebook’s use of tracking software to gather data about its users without their knowledge or permission and its sale of personal information to third-party companies.

The whistleblower, who worked as a software engineer from 2016 to 2018, accused the company of spying on and intimidating competitors. He alleged that Facebook would use its tracking software to monitor competitors’ products and potentially take advantage of their weaknesses to gain market share. He also alleges Facebook actively worked to undermine the competition by distributing false information about their projects.

In addition, he revealed that Facebook had intentionally misled users about what Apple would allow them to do on iPhones. According to the whistleblower, Facebook identified certain features existent on Android devices but not available on iPhones, such as tracking peoples locations through their email address – which Apple had barred – and then informed iPhone users they could access those same features through an update even though they knew they actually could not do so.

Facebook responded by saying it complied with “all applicable laws” and denied misling users about its iOS update or engaging in activities designed to intimidate or disadvantage other firms. However, these allegations have ignited further scrutiny into how much control such tech giants are exercising over user data – a question that many governments continue to debate in regards not only for individual protection but for developing fair competition regulations in a global digital landscape that is increasingly dominated by big tech firms such as Facebook.

Lack of transparency

The detailed whistleblower complaint against Facebook has raised serious concerns about the company’s operating procedures and lack of transparency. The complaint, filed in August 2020 by a former employee, asserts that Facebook had violated U.S. campaign finance laws and employed “unexplained practices” to shift profits to lower-tax countries without informing investors or regulators.

The employee also claimed that although Facebook was working to maintain user privacy, the company had been engaging in activities contrary to its stated mission of protecting user data, allowing access to their data without sufficient oversight or verification procedures. Further, the employee noted that Facebook had allowed third-party companies and organisations access to users’ personal information without providing advance notice or giving users control over this data sharing.

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The whistleblower’s claims have been scrutinised by Congress, the media, and investors alike due to the immense impact of Facebook on consumer privacy and global politics. While it remains unclear whether these allegations are accurate, they raise questions about whether Facebook is acting responsibly about its obligations as an internet platform for providing open information access for its users and other entities collecting consumer data points for various purposes.

Response from US Lawmakers

In response to the recent whistleblowing of Facebook’s alleged operating in the shadows, US lawmakers have demanded for an investigation into Facebook’s policies. The whistleblower has claimed that Facebook “operates in the shadows,” skirting laws, engaging in activity that is “inappropriate and potentially illegal”.

These claims have led to serious concerns and repercussions from US lawmakers, calling for an urgent probe into the matter.

Calls for investigation

The whistleblower’s reports of Facebook’s alleged operating procedures and practices have prompted several US lawmakers to call for further investigations into the company. For example, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) has urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the allegations to ascertain whether Facebook violated their 2011 consent decree, which holds them accountable for user privacy violations.

Other policymakers have called for more sweeping measures, such as the House Judiciary Committee launching an official inquiry into Facebook to look into the company’s practices over the last several years. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has also joined calls for a congressional investigation.

In response to increasing pressure from lawmakers and other groups, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed to testify in front of Congress about the allegations against his firm. The Senate Judiciary Committee has since scheduled his testimony for April 10th, 2019.

Criticism of Facebook’s response

In response to Facebook’s failure to protect user data, US lawmakers have expressed a range of criticism against the social media giant. For example, on July 16, 2019, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Josh Hawley held a joint press conference to express their deep concern at the revelations coming out in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

One particular criticism has surrounded Facebook’s lack of transparency in its operating procedures. In an open letter to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, demanded that Facebook take responsibility for the data breach and commit “real reform” to prevent a similar incident from happening again. In addition, both senators expressed shock at allegations that some employees knew about potential risks surrounding user data but did nothing to address them internally.

Senators Blumenthal and Hawley also raised issues related to consumer trust, demanding that Facebook immediately be transparent when collecting user data and use tougher policies when deciding which third-party companies are allowed access. Furthermore, both senators emphasised their expectations for further legislative action if Facebook does not take proactive measures for implementation of true reforms across its platform.

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