Facebook's Terrible Week

Facebook was already in the chop following two whistleblower complaints when the company’s entire line of services, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, the company’s internal communications and Oculus virtual reality hardware simultaneously went dark on Monday, October 4. 

A segment on 60 Minutes featured Frances Haugen, a whistleblower and former product manager who leaked internal data on how Facebook’s algorithms were used to exacerbate social discord and teen angst perhaps illegally. 

The company’s tendency to prioritize profits, according to Haugen, specifically hurts ethnic minorities as well as adolescent and preadolescent girls. It also turns a blind eye (at the minimum) to repressive regimes that deliberately manipulate the company’s 2.8 billion users with misinformation.

Haugen reasserted these points in front of Congress Tuesday in a bid for a more tightly regulated Facebook, or perhaps even breaking up the social media company. 

While many feel Facebook’s week of woe is well-deserved, rumors spread about the cause of the outage. There was speculation that a cyberattack was behind the outage on Monday, but unless it was unthinkably well done, that’s not what happened. The problem was traced back to  misconfigured DNS and BGP (domain name system and border gateway protocol, respectively) settings that took everything ranging from apps and websites to employee email and even door locks at Facebook headquarters. 

“People who believe that today’s Facebook/WhatsApp/Instagram outage couldn’t possibly be a coincidence after Sunday’s 60 Minutes expose on Facebook do not understand that the internet is held together with bubblegum and string,” tweeted Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

That said, people who assume it was an error underestimate the mendacity of Facebook. The knowable truth is that Facebook was out for an unprecedented amount of time on Monday. As for the rest, it is whatever it is, and we may never know, which was essentially the takeaway from the revelations made by Facebook’s two whistleblowers this week. Facebook continues to be the personal information Death Star.

Not enough for you? We also learned of a massive data dump containing the private information of 1.5 billion Facebook users, including email addresses, locations, phone numbers and more.

“That’s its biggest data breach to date,” said Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn ahead of Haugen’s testimony.

While such a data archive may exist and be up for sale on the dark web, it’s more likely that news outlets spread the story without verifying it. Vice traced the claim back to a single anonymous post on a hacking forum from September 22 with no actual proof of having the data. That’s probably the most positive news Mark Zuckerberg has heard in days.

It’s also only Tuesday at the time of this writing, so we’ll just have to see how the rest of the week goes for Facebook.