Yesterday, members of the combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for nearly five hours regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal and, more broadly, how Facebook uses its users’ data for advertising purposes.
It was a spectacle to see senators opine with faux outrage at Facebook’s perfectly legitimate and well-established business model.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.) drew a hilarious analogy on Facebook’s use of data gathering, asking Zuckerberg if he was “comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” Sen. John Kennedy (R- La.) complained to the Facebook CEO that his “user agreement sucks,” and that “it's not to inform your users about their rights. I'm going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it.”
“We Vermonters believe in privacy,” Sen. Leahy proudly proclaimed.
Yet, a quick visit to his website, https://www.leahyforvermont.com/, with the Chrome extension “Facebook Pixel Helper” reveals that Sen. Leahy has a Facebook pixel, invisible to users, that gathers user data of Facebook users who visit the site. (For a quick primer on what “pixels” do, visit Facebook’s resource guide on the data-gathering tool.)
That’s right, if you visit Senator Leahy’s campaign website, it’s likely your data, including your demographics and what pages you looked at on the site, have been placed into a custom data targeting audience by Leahy’s team.
Does this sound nefarious? Is Senator Leahy violating the privacy of users who visit his campaign site? Of course not, it’s a well-established online advertising tool employed by millions of businesses and organizations. But it sure doesn’t match his sacrosanct rhetoric on privacy.