Facebook under fire for peddling your private messages – and isn’t sorry

The latest Facebook mess feels different.

The company ( Facebook) has been the target of so much scrutiny, so many investigations, that it’s difficult for anyone to keep track.

And we’ve all become accustomed, maybe inured, to all the explanations, justifications and belated apologies from Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

But an investigative piece in yesterday’s New York Times involves a very different kind of ethical breach — one that critics say rises to outright betrayal.

Facebook is merchandizing access to your private messages.

That is like a gut punch — the one area on the post-everything site where its more than 2 billion users felt assured they had absolute privacy.

And yet, documents obtained by the Times show the company granted Netflix and Spotify the ability to read confidential messages.

Never mind that you might have been writing about sensitive financial matters or emotional issues, or didn’t want anyone to know about your relationship with that person. Facebook didn’t care.

Zuckerberg and company “allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems … Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them.”

Facebook privacy chief Steve Satterfield is quoted as saying the company didn’t violate anyone’s privacy. He conceded that “we know we’ve got work to do to regain people’s trust.”

But no apology from Zuckerberg, Sandberg or the company itself.

Other deals: Facebook let Microsoft’s Bing search engine see the names of nearly all Facebook users’ friends without their consent. Yahoo was allowed to “view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.”

Even the newspaper itself: “The Times — one of nine media companies named in the documents — had access to users’ friend lists for an article-sharing application it had discontinued in 2011.”

Experts, including a former Federal Trade Commission, said the deals appeared to violate a consent decree signed by Facebook after a privacy suit by the agency.

This comes on the heels of a Senate report charging that Facebook (along with Twitter and Google) withheld information from the government about the extent of Russian infiltration.

But the Facebook privacy infringements are a self-inflicted wound. They reflect an insatiable drive for profits that goes well beyond the bargain we all make in allowing our public information to be marketed to advertisers.

It’s a bargain that some prominent people are now abandoning. Walt Mossberg, the pioneering technology reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Recode and the Verge, says he’s quitting the site.

“I am doing this — after being on Facebook for nearly 12 years — because my own values and the policies and actions of Facebook have diverged to the point where I’m no longer comfortable here.”

MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt said yesterday that she too is bailing on Facebook.

I’m not suggesting this is a giant wave. But Facebook needs to decide whether trampling on its users’ expectations will ultimately cost the company more friends than it can afford.

Southwest passenger claims airline forced her to leave pet fish at airport

A California woman is claiming a Southwest Airlines agent forced her to leave her pet fish at the airport last Wednesday.

Lanice Powless, a University of Colorado student, was flying to California from Denver International Airport when she said a Southwest Airlines employee informed her that she would not be allowed to bring her pink beta fish, Cassie, onboard with her.

Powless had gotten the fish her freshman year of college to combat loneliness she was feeling being away at school. The two formed a fast friendship, Powless said to 10News.

“I put my finger in there, he come up and nibble my finger. He was a cool fish,” she said. “I even got him a heater, because it gets so cold in Colorado.”

Powless said she had brought Cassie onto flights before and was not hassled about it.

“I have traveled with it. I had it in my container too.”

According to the TSA website, live fish are allowed on board as carry on bags.

“Live fish in water and a clear transparent container are allowed after inspection by the TSA officer,” the website reads.


However, Southwest Airlines’ policy allows only small cats and dogs that fit under the seat to fly.

Desperate, Powless said she asked a gate agent if she could leave her fish at the counter so a friend could come pick him up in a half an hour. However, the agent allegedly denied her, leaving Powless to start asking random passengers on other airlines if they wanted to care for the beta.

Luckily, Powless claims she managed to find someone traveling on an airline that allowed fish who was willing to take Cassie, but airport staff were dubious.

“They were not allowing us to converse at all because they were thinking we were going to do some secret exchange throughout the airport,” Powless said. “Even after I was no longer in possession of the fish, they still continued to have security around us, and follow us through the airport and escorted onto our plane, as if we brought something bad onto the airport,” she added.

Powless noted that she is getting made fun of for her fishy friend, but sees it as no different than being attached to a cat or dog.


“Everyone’s laughing at me. Yes, it’s a fish. I know. But dang, it was my pet. And just because it wasn’t a cat or dog, it wasn’t as important?” Powless said.

Southwest Airlines confirmed the incident to Fox News, and claimed they offered to alter Powless’ trip so she could make accomodations for her fish, which she allegedly denied.

“Our Team offered to re-book the Customer for a later flight to allow them to make arrangements for their pet but the Customer refused that option. The Customer eventually traveled on their originally scheduled flight,” the airline spokesperson said.