Facebook's Pages location requirement raises questions about users' right to privacy

Non-compliance will leave users unable to perform their jobs

Facebook has repeatedly run into trouble over its privacy practices. Photo: AFP
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Facebook's mandatory requirement of turning on location services for users of its Pages business service raises the question of users' right to privacy, with non-compliance preventing people from performing their jobs.

Facebook for Business requires users to enable location services, update their current city and home town and enable two-factor authentication (2FA). The world's largest social media network says these are needed for pages with large audiences in order to preserve their content's credibility and prevent the spread of misinformation.

"Pages allow businesses, causes and communities to connect with their audiences around the world. We want these connections to be genuine and authentic, especially on Pages with large audiences," a post on the Facebook for Business site said.

"If you manage a Page with a large audience, you may be asked to confirm your identity and secure your account through a new Page Publishing Authorisation process," it added.

The stringent requirements could be a deterrent for users, particularly those sensitive to sharing their information, and ultimately affect their reach in key sectors, including journalism and community-driven groups, which widely use Facebook as a platform to spread news and information.

Facebook did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The National.

The Facebook for Business page adds that users with a high reach may receive a notification and alert banner, an indication that they must go through the process, which will be visible until the authorisation process is complete.

"If you do not complete authorisation by the deadline provided in your initial notification you will lose the ability to post on the Page," it said.

Privacy-related requirements set by internet services have become a major sticking point for users and regulators, who argue that while companies indeed disclose purposes on their terms on conditions of use, conditions become murky after hitting the 'agree' button, with the scale of what data is collected, used and shared with third parties virtually unknown.

The phenomenon is known as "dark data", which research firm Gartner defines as "the information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes [for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetising]".

"Similar to dark matter in physics, dark data often comprises most organisations’ universe of information assets. Thus, organisations often retain dark data for compliance purposes only. Storing and securing data typically incurs more expense [and sometimes greater risk] than value."

User data collected may include anything from personal information such as birthdays and locations to sensitive details such as bank account numbers.

Amita Potnis, lead of the International Data Corporation's Future of Trust Research, said it has become "very difficult" to monitor and regulate Facebook's policies.

"There are many questions that arise when Facebook asks Page owners to identify themselves by providing information on primary country and possibly photo of official ID," she told The National on Thursday.

Among these questions, Potnis said, are how Facebook is validating the authenticity of IDs and does it have any ties with a government database to be able to validate them.

"Facebook says that personal information obtained from IDs may be shared with Trusted service providers to confirm the authenticity of the ID. How do we trust these trusted service providers?"

She suggests that Facebook, and any other social media platform, should have the ability to identify individuals based on a government-issued ID but this has to be enabled by the government. Should this happen, Potnis argues that it would be the dawn of a new, potentially safer social platform.

The London-based Privacy International, in a recent report, said that in order to reduce Facebook's harms, its data-hungry model should be scrutinised.

"Companies like [Facebook-owned] Instagram want to understand who we are. But their extensive and invasive data collection is having devastating consequences," it said.

Facebook has repeatedly run into trouble for its privacy practices, with regulators and users wary of the significant reach it has on the internet. A number of its top officials, including founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, have appeared before a number of government regulators to explain their practices.

In Europe, Facebook is among several Big Tech companies - including Google and Microsoft - that have spent millions of dollars to influence the European Union's digital economy policies, according to a recent report from the Brussels-based non-profit Corporate Europe Observatory and Cologne-based Lobbycontrol, which provides information about lobbying and power structures in the EU.

Facebook has certainly enabled many businesses, sharing of information and connecting citizens of the world. This is an amazing feat but sometimes, greed gets in the way of good. Frankly, no one company should become a monopoly of this kind with insurmountable powers and reach
Amita Potnis, lead of the International Data Corporation's Future of Trust Research

Facebook's most recent attempt of forcing users to accept new terms and conditions on WhatsApp - the world's biggest messaging platform with about two billion users - to share their information across Facebook's suite was met with backlash and the company was forced to delay the move a number of times before eventually settling on letting users accept them voluntarily, albeit with persistent reminders on the app.

Facebook enforced a similar authorisation process move in 2018 in preparation for elections in major countries, including the US and India, to "support positive discourse and prevent interference in these elections", Mr Zuckerberg said at the time. He said they had earlier identified Russian interference in the 2016 US polls and deployed artificial intelligence tools in the run-up to the French and German elections in 2017.

It has been a rough week for Facebook, which had to deal with the testimony of former employee-turned-whistle-blower Frances Haugen, who said the company was prioritising profits over user safety, drawing fire from US legislators and forcing Mr Zuckerberg to deny the claims.

On Monday, Facebook suffered its worst outage, taking down its associated platforms WhatsApp and Instagram for about six hours. The chain of events caused Mr Zuckerberg's net worth to plummet by $7bn.

"Honestly, at this point I do not believe Facebook’s self-regulation policy works," Potnis said.

"The company has certainly enabled many businesses, sharing of information and connecting citizens of the world. This is an amazing feat but sometimes, greed gets in the way of good. Frankly, no one company should become a monopoly of this kind with insurmountable powers and reach."

Updated: October 08, 2021, 7:32 AM