Facebook has been in the headlines again – and for all the wrong reasons.
The social media platform stands accused of using highly personal data from paid volunteers aged between 13 and 17 via a phone app.
The scandal involving paid data sharing was uncovered by American publisher, TechCrunch, which revealed that youngsters as young as 13 had been paid up to $20 a month to allow their phones to be ‘opened up for deep analysis.’
Apple claimed that Facebook had misused its privileges by distributing the app and has subsequently halted Facebook's ability to issue any iOS apps that are not approved and listed on its App Store.
It is alleged that the Facebook app provided the company with "nearly limitless access" to a user's device including private messages, web browsing activity, logs of which apps were installed and when they were used, along with the physical location history of the user.
The social network initially claimed that everyone involved in the programme had provided their consent but after TechCrunch went public with its findings, Facebook agreed to halt the programme on Apple devices. To date, it is not believed that the company has suspended activities via Android.
The accusations of accessing youngsters’ personal data is not the only media storm Facebook have had to deal with.
It came within days of former Lib Dem Leader, Sir Nick Clegg – now head of Global Affairs at Facebook – conceding during a BBC interview that he would not allow his own children to view disturbing images that encouraged thoughts of suicide, on the Facebook-owned Instagram image-sharing platform.
The comments from Sir Nick came in response to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing distressing self-harm images on Instagram.
Molly’s family found distressing material about depression and suicide on her Instagram account and her father is convinced that Instagram is partly responsible for his daughter’s death.
Despite condemning the images, Sir Nick added that the advice of experts is not to ban all content of this nature.
"... I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but they do say that in some instances it's better to keep some of the distressing images up if that helps people make a cry for help and then get the support they need," he told the BBC.
According to a recent Ofcom report, Facebook remains the most popular social media app among UK 12-to-15-year-olds.
Justin Ellis, a Solicitor with iLaw who specialises in internet law, said: “Facebook is no stranger to controversy but these two scandals, within days of each other, will undoubtedly give cause for concern.
“The Government has already signalled its intention to take a tougher stance where companies fail to protect both the data of its users and the safety of youngsters who use social media platforms.
“At the beginning of 2018, it published the Digital Charter which aims to protect users and change behaviour online, whilst the recently introduced General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection Act 2018 give more power to individuals to control how their data is used and manage their online experience.
“The Law Commission has also been involved in the Data Charter which, having conducted a review into online abusive communications, as part of the Government’s proposals to introduce tougher laws to tackle abusive behaviour on social media platforms.
“Social media providers who fail to keep their house in order by demonstrating that they are fully committed to protecting their users from harm, could add to calls for an increase in legislative powers which will affect the entire sector.”
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