Many Facebook and Instagram users were forced to “unplug” for 14 hours Wednesday as the world’s largest social media network had what is believed to have been their biggest outage ever. Facebook turned to Twitter to explain the massive partial outage of its apps, including Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Hashtag #FacebookDown and #InstagramDown were trending on Twitter throughout the day. If the outage gave people a glimpse of just how “addicted” they are to social media, the shades went back down as soon as their apps were restored.
The outage comes at a time when Facebook is being indicted for illegally sharing user’s information. According to the New York Times, criminal investigations are being made into data deals that Facebook made with some of the world’s largest tech companies and a grand jury has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices who entered into partnerships with Facebook. In doing so they gained broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of users.
If you have a Facebook account you can go to settings and download all the data that has been gathered about you. But prepare to be shocked, because not only is there record of every photo you uploaded, every item you posted and every post you liked, but all your deleted friends, denied friend requests and searches are stored too. If you use Messenger on your phone, Facebook has your phone’s entire address book uploaded. Facebook is being accused of selling user’s private information for ad targeting, but it is hard to see how all the information being gathered is useful to that end.
Now, the connections between science, technology and the military is well established. All apps function through a myriad of electronic devices and nearly all the technology in those devices can be traced to a single source, the US Department of Defense. In her book “The Entrepreneurial state: Debunking the Public vs. Private Sector Myths,” Economist Mariana Mazzucato used Apple as an example to show that the technological breakthroughs behind devices like iPod, iPhone, and iPad were exclusively funded by government agencies, one in particular. The US Navy invested in the development of GPS technology and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded Siri. All this makes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promises to increase privacy on his apps seem a little thin.
Most people are aware that the information they share on social media is being used for marketing, even for spying on them, but they are not terribly concerned. It is considered a necessary evil, practically unavoidable in our technologically advancing world.
But events in China should raise the concern level more than a little. China is currently fast at work to implement a system of surveillance where private companies, together with government, sift through citizen’s social media and online data to produce a “citizen score.” Citizens are to be monitored by surveillance cameras under the guise of incentive for “good” behavior and improving public safety. According to the website, The Atlantic, “[China] is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control—with implications for democracies worldwide.”
Meanwhile, we continue to share with friends on our social networks, nervously hoping that any foreseen dangers will never materialize. Spoiler alert: they will.
Facebook came out Thursday saying that their outage was due to a “server configuration change.”