Is Facebook finished? 'We're not far from Zuckerberg getting subpoenaed', privacy expert says

Even for a company that has been involved in the number of controversies as has, it's been a bad week for the social network. Separate investigations revealed that Facebook gave more than 150 firms access to people's private messages, while also making it impossible for users to avoid location-based ads.

After months of fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, US prosecutors also finally got around to filing a lawsuit against Facebook for its data sharing practices.

Individually, none of these would likely be enough to bring Facebook down, but some experts believe that, collectively, this could signal the end for the internet behemoth.

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David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, said this week may finally have dealt Facebook its "knockout" blow.

As an outspoken critic of the way Facebook uses people's data, Prof Carroll is currently suing the company under the Data Protection Act in the UK. But the latest revelations that other tech firms were given access to people's private messages was beyond even what he thought Facebook was capable of.

"Even as someone who is deeply sceptical of Facebook, I was surprised by the latest revelations," he told The Independent. "I didn't know it could be that bad in terms of scope and scale. But it all seems to fit with Zuckerberg's master plan for global domination."

The first lawsuit against Facebook regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which affected more than 87 million users, comes courtesy of the attorney general of the District of Columbia. It is unlikely to be the last, given that Facebook is also currently facing probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice – and that's just in the US.

A relatively insignificant fine of £500,000 that was handed to Facebook in the UK may be dwarfed following investigations by the Irish data protection regulator, which are being seen as the first serious test of Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation.

But with more than 2 billion users worldwide and an annual revenue of more than $40 billion in 2017, it will take more than a fine to have any significant impact on Facebook. Prof Carroll has called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives to be subpoenaed and thinks it might not be long before that becomes a reality.

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How to stop Facebook from revealing everything about you

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How to stop Facebook from revealing everything about you

1/9

Lock your profile down

If you haven’t done this already, do it now. In Settings, hit the Privacy tab. From here, you can control who gets to see your future posts and friends list. Choose from Public, Friends, Only Me and Custom in the dropdown menu.

2/9

Limit old posts

Annoyingly, changing this has no effect on who’s able to see your past Facebook posts. Instead, on the Privacy page, you have to click on Limit Past Posts, then select Limit Old Posts and finally hit Confirm on the pop-up.

3/9

Make yourself harder to find

You can stop completely random people from adding you by selecting Friends of Friends from the dropdown menu in the Who can send you friend requests? section of the Privacy page. It’s also worth limiting who can find your Facebook profile with your number and email address. At the bottom of the page is the option to prevent search engines outside of Facebook from linking to your profile.

4/9

Control access to your Timeline

You can limit who gets to post things on your Timeline and who gets to see posts on your Timeline too. In Settings, go to Timeline and Tagging and edit the sections you want to lock down.

5/9

Block people

When you block someone, they won’t be able to see things you post on your Timeline, tag you, invite you to events or groups, start conversations with you or add you as a friend. To do it, go to Settings and Blocking. Annoyingly, you have to block people on Messenger separately. You can also add friends to your Restricted list here, which means they’ll still be friends with you but will only be able to see your public posts and things you share on a mutual friend's Timeline.

6/9

Review tags

One of Facebook’s handiest privacy features is the ability to review posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your Timeline. They’ll still be visible on the News Feed while they’re fresh, but won’t be tied to your profile forever. In Timeline and Tagging, enable Timeline review controls.

7/9

Clean up your apps

You can view a list of all of the apps you’ve connected to your Facebook account by going to Settings and Apps. The list might be longer than you expected it to be. It’s worth tidying this up to ensure things you no longer use lose access to your personal information. If you don’t want to log into websites and apps with your facebook account, scroll down and turn Platform off.

8/9

Change your ad preferences

You can view a list of everything Facebook thinks you’re into and tinker with your ad preferences by going to Settings and Adverts. A lot more information is displayed on the desktop site than the app, so we’d recommend doing this on a computer.

9/9

Download your data

Facebook lets you download all of the data it has on you, including the posts you’ve shared, your messages and photos, ads you’ve clicked on and even the IP addresses that are logged when you log in or out of the site. It’s a hell of a lot of information, which you should download to ensure you never over-share on the social network again.

1/9

Lock your profile down

If you haven’t done this already, do it now. In Settings, hit the Privacy tab. From here, you can control who gets to see your future posts and friends list. Choose from Public, Friends, Only Me and Custom in the dropdown menu.

2/9

Limit old posts

Annoyingly, changing this has no effect on who’s able to see your past Facebook posts. Instead, on the Privacy page, you have to click on Limit Past Posts, then select Limit Old Posts and finally hit Confirm on the pop-up.

3/9

Make yourself harder to find

You can stop completely random people from adding you by selecting Friends of Friends from the dropdown menu in the Who can send you friend requests? section of the Privacy page. It’s also worth limiting who can find your Facebook profile with your number and email address. At the bottom of the page is the option to prevent search engines outside of Facebook from linking to your profile.

4/9

Control access to your Timeline

You can limit who gets to post things on your Timeline and who gets to see posts on your Timeline too. In Settings, go to Timeline and Tagging and edit the sections you want to lock down.

5/9

Block people

When you block someone, they won’t be able to see things you post on your Timeline, tag you, invite you to events or groups, start conversations with you or add you as a friend. To do it, go to Settings and Blocking. Annoyingly, you have to block people on Messenger separately. You can also add friends to your Restricted list here, which means they’ll still be friends with you but will only be able to see your public posts and things you share on a mutual friend's Timeline.

6/9

Review tags

One of Facebook’s handiest privacy features is the ability to review posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your Timeline. They’ll still be visible on the News Feed while they’re fresh, but won’t be tied to your profile forever. In Timeline and Tagging, enable Timeline review controls.

7/9

Clean up your apps

You can view a list of all of the apps you’ve connected to your Facebook account by going to Settings and Apps. The list might be longer than you expected it to be. It’s worth tidying this up to ensure things you no longer use lose access to your personal information. If you don’t want to log into websites and apps with your facebook account, scroll down and turn Platform off.

8/9

Change your ad preferences

You can view a list of everything Facebook thinks you’re into and tinker with your ad preferences by going to Settings and Adverts. A lot more information is displayed on the desktop site than the app, so we’d recommend doing this on a computer.

9/9

Download your data

Facebook lets you download all of the data it has on you, including the posts you’ve shared, your messages and photos, ads you’ve clicked on and even the IP addresses that are logged when you log in or out of the site. It’s a hell of a lot of information, which you should download to ensure you never over-share on the social network again.

"We need to get them under oath and ask them questions they cannot dodge. It will depend on the Mueller investigation. It's imaginable additional facts come to our knowledge to justify Zuckerberg's subpoena and we find out how much he knew and when. We need more to justify it but we're not that far from getting there."

The various scandals have prompted several campaigns to boycott Facebook, most recently from a civil rights organisation in the US.

The #LogOut protest, which began on 18 December, is being led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after a report found a Russian influence campaign on the platform was working to suppress African-American voter turnout.

How much impact this, or the #DeleteFacebook campaign that began in March, will have on Facebook will depend on whether anti-Facebook sentiment is fuelled by the latest revelations.

For Prof Carroll, the report about Facebook sharing people's private messages with other companies was "the straw that broke the camel's back", which finally saw him delete his Facebook account. "I finally lost my patience," he said.

But it is not so easy for some people to simply delete their accounts, particularly those in developing countries with limited internet access. Facebook has been targeting such areas in order to grow its user base through initiatives like Free Basics and Internet.org, which offer some people their only way to communicate over the internet.

Zuckerberg angled it as a humanitarian effort to connect the world but critics said it was a barely disguised attempt at digital colonisation, locking people into Facebook and its various products.

It should therefore not be up to users to effect change through a boycott of Facebook, Prof Carroll said.

"Facebook has a monopoly over social relationships across their major platforms, which include Instagram and WhatsApp. For many people, particularly those in developing countries, Facebook and its various platforms is the internet," he said.

"It's either up to Facebook employees or law makers to affect change. Employees could protest, we've already seen people leave, and that can hurt Facebook if their talent leaves. Employees are the morale backbone of the company and they hold the power, so if it's not legal pressure then it will be them that takes Facebook down."

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