Facebook’s Baby Step Fixes: Defending Its Ad Business

Wondering why Facebook seems to be taking baby steps to address the biggest scandal in its history? Stronger safeguards on user data might damage Facebook's core business of using what it knows about you to sell ads that target your interests.

Facebook is proposing only narrow countermeasures that address the specifics of the furor over Cambridge Analytica. That's the data mining firm that worked for Donald Trump's campaign, and now stands accused of lifting data from some 50 million Facebook users for the purpose of influencing voters.

Those measures, announced Wednesday by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, mostly involve new limits on what Facebook apps can do with the user data they collect. One such errant app was central to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.

But those steps don't get at what many outsiders see as bigger problems at Facebook: its rampant data collection from users, its embrace of political ads that target individuals and small demographic groups with precision, and its apparent inability to end malicious use of its service by governments, shady corporations and criminal elements.

"They're being very deft and creating the illusion of trust," said Scott Galloway, a New York University professor of marketing. But by focusing on the mechanics of how apps work on its service, he said, Facebook is failing to take meaningful action to ensure it's not "weaponized" by scammers, manipulators and other nefarious types.

Ultimately, Facebook is a data-collection company and without user data, it would wither and die. But how much data it sucks in, and what it does with it, is a question of major public importance -- one that touches on the health of democracy itself, privacy advocates say.

It's just not a question that Facebook seems to want to address.

Facebook made $40 billion in advertising revenue last year, and that's expected to rise 22 percent this year...

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