Facebook is Riding High, but Will the NSA’s Latest Blunder Derail the Social Empire?
Facebook is the biggest, most profitable social media platform out there. 56% of all social media users, 1.4 billion people, use Facebook, most of them on a daily basis. While this makes the platform especially powerful for connecting with long lost friends, ex boyfriends and girlfriends who are better left in the past, and staying in-touch with family, it also has big implications on web marketing. Because of its popularity among consumers, Facebook commands revenues of over $2 billion per quarter from marketers looking to get their products in front of the platform’s users.
The Upcoming F8 Developer Conference
Never satisfied with resting on its laurels, Mark Zuckerberg and team have been preparing for the upcoming F8 developer conference, slated to be held on April 30 in San Francisco. It’s speculated that this conference will see the launch of a new, highly customizable mobile app tool. The devs at the social media empire have remained mostly mum about the subject, but there is speculation that the app relies on Parse, a cloud computing platform acquired by Facebook in 2013. Ilya Sukhar, co-founder of Parse, has been at the helm of this new app since joining Zuckerberg’s team. Sukhar was vague when describing the soon to be announced. “There just generally was a period of time when the company, as has been widely reported, has been figuring stuff out [on mobile]. This is a signal that we think we’ve figured it out,” Sukhar said.
If the early buzz is any indication, the new application is set to be another colorful feather in Facebook’s cap. That being said, recent developments may throw a wrench into the works.
Has the NSA Taken the Wind out of Facebook’s Sails?
Glenn Greenwald, the British journalist famous for releasing government-threatening intelligence from former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, revealed today on his website Intercept that NSA agents have set up dummy Facebook sites to install spyware on their targets’ computers. Like all of the other revelations on the NSA’s activities, no one is quite sure who the shadow agency’s targets are, at least not beyond the overplayed and cryptic “threats to America.”
The deception seems to have been simple enough: NSA operatives used a server cloning technique, codenamed QUANTUMHAND, to put up a facade that aped Facebook’s own servers perfectly. When accessed by the aforementioned “targets,” data-mining software was downloaded and installed on their computers. The problem, as you may have already guessed, is that the surveillance program, like PRISM before it, wasn’t tweaked to target certain individuals. Instead, it functioned as a mass surveillance program. In other words, perfectly innocent Facebook users have been spied on without cause.
“Honestly, it’s not a surprise to me,” says Andreas Huttenrauch, Chief Digital Strategist at Globi Web Solutions. “Don’t we know that the government is monitoring everything? They highly restrict the level of encryption on software and data so that they can still look into it. Why would we be surprised that the NSA might be watching?”
There’s no sign yet that the revelation will be damaging to Facebook, not to mention the momentum the company has built for its upcoming reveal. However, it’s a very real possibility. Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Zuckerberg and the gang have had to contend with issues of privacy. One of the latest issues revolves around the purchase of WhatsApp; many Facebook and WhatsApp users are concerned that the social media giant will tap into the messages sent on the latter service, using them to target tailored advertisements. Add this to accusations in the past over Facebook effectively mining and selling photos and the like, and you might just have the makings of a crisis of faith that will actually stick.
It’s purely academic at this point. However, as more information about the NSA’s latest blunder are revealed and the F8 conference draws ever closer, we may find a Facebook with much less marketing clout. After all, if consumers lose confidence and head elsewhere, why would any savvy business bother spending their budget on a derelict service?