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.

Google Maps user spots ‘UFO’ floating above Florida swamp – just outside the Bermuda Triangle

An eagle-eyed Google Maps user has reported a mysterious “UFO sighting” in the skies above a Florida swamp.

The strange object is partly blurred, and was spied in an area just outside of the notorious Bermuda Triangle.

Even when zoomed in, it’s hard to define exactly what the object is.

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It’s clearly multicolored and slightly ovular, but a stitching issue with Google Maps means you can’t see the entire shape.

It’s also impossible to judge the distance of the strange object, although it appears to be floating some way above a treeline.

The object was spotted in the Big Cypress National Preserve, which is located in southern Florida.

This area is just outside the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the North Atlantic Ocean shrouded in mystery.

The Bermuda Triangle has long been associated with mysterious aircraft and ship disappearances, paranormal activity, and even aliens.

Most claims about the Bermuda Triangle have been deemed spurious, but many still believe that the area is supernatural.

That may be why one Reddit user described the Google Maps find as a “UFO sighting”.

However, another user is probably closer to the mark, suggesting it’s simply a “butterfly” caught on camera.

A fast-moving butterfly caught in a single shot on Google Street View could easily be the explanation for this mystery.

This theory is strengthened by the fact that moving one step away on Street View completely removes the object – which is exactly what would happen if the object was a butterfly flying past.

Of course, a UFO might also avoid sticking around for too long, so we may never know.

This isn’t the first time something strange has been spotted on Google Maps.

We rounded up 10 of the most mysterious Google Maps secrets here.

And read about the curious case of Russia’s censored Jeannette Island on Google Maps, too.

There’s also a Google Maps phantom island that disappeared in 2012 that’s worth investigating.

Consumer groups allege Google misleads children in FTC complaint

A group of consumer advocacy, privacy and public health groups urged U.S. regulators to probe whether children are being endangered by deceptive apps in Google’s Play app store for smartphones using the Android operating system.

The complaint filed Wednesday alleges Google’s Play store is harming kids by allowing apps that break privacy laws, contain adult content or include manipulative advertising.

The call for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) action is being led by two groups, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, both of which have previously attacked Google’s approach to kids. Twenty other groups also joined in the latest complaint.

Google issued a statement emphasizing its commitment to protecting children while they are online — one of the reasons the company says it prohibits targeted advertising at children under 13.

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“We take these issues very seriously and continue to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform,” Google said.

More than 2 billion devices worldwide are powered by Google software, with a significant number of those being used by minors. The complaint focuses on alleged misconduct under U.S. laws and regulations.

The attempt to pressure the FTC to open an investigation comes amid an intensifying backlash against Google, Facebook and other companies that make most of their money by using their free services to track people’s interests and whereabouts and then mining that information to sell ads targeted at them.

Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has been critical of Google, issued a statement supporting the groups seeking an FTC investigation, as did Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico.

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“It is past time for the Federal Trade Commission to crack down to protect children’s privacy,” Udall said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Although the FTC doesn’t typically comment on whether it will investigate issues raised in complaints, it has punished Google for what it deemed to be child exploitation in the past.

In 2014, it reached a settlement requiring Google to refund $19 million for allowing apps distributed through its store to charge children for purchases made without parents’ consent.