Facebook has recently come under fire for sharing private messages between a mother and her 17-year-old daughter with Nebraska police. The duo are on trial for obtaining and using abortion medication beyond the state’s 20-week cut-off. Facebook says it complied with a valid court order. But privacy campaigners question the social media platform’s willingness to violate the mother and daughter’s reasonable expectation of privacy. In the wake of Roe vs Wade being overturned, there are also wider concerns tech companies will be called upon to assist in these types of prosecutions more frequently.
“The difference in abortion being made illegal before Roe and now is today we have a surveillance state,” American video game developer and former candidate for Congress, Brianna Wu, wrote on Twitter. “If the tech industry were anything like what they pretend to be, they’d fight this tooth and nail.”
It is perhaps no coincidence that a few days after the story broke, Meta said it was expanding tests to introduce default end-to-end encryption on its Messenger platform. Even Meta shouldn’t be able to see the content of chats sent with this level of encryption.
Good for business
Privacy has become something of a battleground for technology companies, ever since Apple launched its privacy-first iPhone campaign in 2019. This summer, the difference in the two company’s stances was stark. In LA, the billboard championing the iPhone’s privacy credentials was in direct competition with Meta’s advertisement for Ray-Ban sunglasses that can record other people’s faces without them knowing. “It’s interesting to see where the two tech giants are placing their bets,” New York Times tech reporter Ryan Mac, said at the time.
But standing up for privacy is good for business, particularly when it comes to public opinion. Research by McKinsey found 87% of people say they won’t do business with a company if they have concerns about its security practices. And 71% said they would stop doing business with a company if it gave away sensitive data without permission.
In response, advertisers are flocking to Android, but it’s expected Google will follow Apple’s lead by introducing privacy changes to ad tracking over the next two years. It’s also set to block third-party cookies from its Chrome browser, a key tracking tool for advertising companies. Samsung has been promoting its Knox Vault feature that protects users’ personal data and even fellow Meta subsidiary WhatsApp is promoting its privacy credentials. Its global advertising campaign publicised how the messaging service keeps users’ messages as “secure as face-to-face conversations”.