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Facebook Employs Three of Its Most Prominent Privacy Critics

Can three privacy advocates affect change from within Facebook, or will they be thwarted by bureaucracy?

YEARS OF CRITICISM have been directed at Facebook’s privacy lapses, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to this week’s revelation that Facebook has paid people, including minors, to allow it to spy on their entire online activity, including their encrypted private messages. The company has quietly hired three prominent privacy advocates, all of whom are outspoken critics, over the past several weeks, ostensibly to help right the ship, which could be a very significant development.

Facebook hired Nathan White away from the digital rights nonprofit Access Now in December and appointed him manager of the privacy policy. On Tuesday of this week, attorneys Nate Cardozo of the privacy watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation and Robyn Greene of New America’s Open Technology Institute announced that they, too, are joining Facebook’s internal legal team. Cardozo will be WhatsApp’s privacy policy manager, while Greene will be Facebook’s new law enforcement and data protection privacy policy manager.

“It remains to be seen whether they can be effective within what has become a large bureaucracy that profits from knowing a great deal about us.”
JENNIFER GRANICK, ACLU
These three individuals are kings of data privacy. (WIRED has interviewed all three for various privacy-related articles) And they have been especially vocal Facebook critics. By bringing them in-house, Facebook sends the message that it will give real decision-making power to individuals who have a thorough understanding of how the social media site and its family of apps violate users’ privacy. Unanswered is whether or not Facebook will actually listen.

Privacy advocates have expressed cautious optimism thus far. “Nate, Robyn, and Nathan are aware of the obstacles, and they would not join Facebook unless they saw a genuine chance to make a difference. For the benefit of privacy, they will all attempt to move swiftly and disrupt things “Jennifer Granick, a privacy expert and ACLU attorney, stated in an email to WIRED: “It remains to be seen whether they can be effective within what has become a large bureaucracy that profits from knowing a great deal about us.”

Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, sees this as an indication that Facebook may be prepared to take privacy seriously. King told WIRED: “It’s possible that Facebook has finally gotten the message and is actively trying to make changes.” She also noted that Facebook has decided to strengthen its privacy credentials relatively late in the game, given that it’s irresponsible handling of user data resulted in a 2011 consent decree from the Federal Trade Commission. Currently, the FTC is investigating allegations that Facebook has since breached these promises. Facebook has almost no choice but to get with the program, given the increased scrutiny and increased regulatory power emanating from Europe and elsewhere.

A skeptic would believe that Facebook hired these individuals in part to silence three critics, and Facebook has certainly earned skepticism. Those familiar with the trio, however, assert that they joined in good faith and would leave if they were unable to effect positive change from within.

According to David O’Brien, assistant research director for privacy and security at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, “Nate, Robyn, and Nathan… are people of deep conviction.” “In addition, they possess a strong moral compass. They would not have accepted these positions at Facebook without assurances that their contributions would be taken seriously.”

“Hiring a few people does not alter an organization’s culture, especially one as large and sprawling as Facebook.” – DAVID O’BRIEN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY

For example, Cardozo has called Facebook in the past “creepy,” adding that its “business model relies on our collective apathy and confusion regarding privacy.” As a matter of both ethics and the law, that is wrong.” He worked for years on the EFF’s annual report ranking tech companies on how well they protect user privacy, which has frequently ranked WhatsApp and Facebook poorly. In December, Cardozo’s colleagues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation concluded, “Facebook has never deserved your trust.”

Cardozo wrote in a Facebook post announcing his new job, “If you know me at all, you’ll know this isn’t a move I’d make lightly.” “After the privacy beating Facebook has taken over the past year, I, too, was dubious. However, the privacy team I will be joining knows me well and is aware of my stances on tech policy, privacy, and encrypted communication. And they want this person to manage privacy at WhatsApp.”

Moreover, Facebook will persist with or without employees concerned with privacy. This makes the strategy “if you can’t beat them, join them” more appealing. “Hiring a few people does not alter a company’s culture, especially one as large and sprawling as Facebook,” said O’Brien. I interpret this as an indication that Facebook is at the very least curious about what change might entail.

Additionally, it is hoped that White, Cardozo, and Greene will not only assist in enhancing Facebook’s privacy credibility but also facilitate fruitful conversations between their former advocacy communities and Facebook’s leadership.

And change will occur. Zuckerberg has grand plans to unite the messaging components of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram so that users can communicate across all three platforms. For years, he has kept WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram relatively separate. This will be a significant test for WhatsApp and Cardozo. Since 2016, WhatsApp has utilized end-to-end encryption by default, and Cardozo will be tasked with ensuring that encryption is not compromised by combining the services.

It will be difficult to tell from the outside whether Cardozo, White, and Greene’s gamble to join Facebook pays off. “Once individuals enter the inner circle, it is difficult for them to speak publicly,” observes King.

Cardozo declined to speak with WIRED for this story after Facebook’s communications team became involved. Greene and White did not respond to comment requests. WIRED has contacted Facebook for comment and will update this article if we receive a response. In her Twitter announcement, Greene described Facebook’s privacy team as “incredible.” In his announcement, Cardozo referred to the “huge challenge” the position posed. That might be an understatement.

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The above article was written by the BestTopReviewsOnline team, which consists of some of the most knowledgeable technical experts in the United States. Our team consists of highly regarded writers with vast experience in smartphones, computer components, technology apps, security, and photography, among other fields.

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