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Facebook's 2018: A year in facepalms

After a year of fake news, privacy breaches and data-sharing scandals, Wired's Louise Matsakis looks ahead to what next year might bring for Facebook and its users.

'2019 is going to be a ticking time bomb for Facebook,' says Louise Matsakis

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., listens during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
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This was a bad week in a dismal month of a rotten year for Facebook.

On Monday, two reports to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee provided accounts of how Russian agents used social media, including Facebook and Instagram, to influence Americans.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported Facebook gave several big companies, including the Royal Bank of Canada, Netflix and Amazon, intrusive access to users' data without directly disclosing that sharing. RBC denies the report.

Then on Wednesday, the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against Facebook for allowing political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica access to users' personal information without their permission. The firm had used that data to aid the Trump campaign. Those revelations were originally reported in March.

The D.C. lawsuit shows there will be government consequences for Facebook, says Louise Matsakis, who covers security and social platforms for Wired.

Although Matsakis doesn't think U.S. lawmakers will take on Facebook using anti-trust laws, as some people have suggested, she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury that new privacy regulations for the company and other businesses are a very real possibility.

That's in part because tough new privacy laws will come to bear in California in 2020, providing an incentive for lawmakers and lobbyists to push for less-stringent federal standards.

"Facebook would rather pass a law in 2019 in the U.S. that is not as strict, so it could negate the law in California," Matsakis said.

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Throughout 2018, the social media giant has been criticized for how it handled misinformation, user data and its response to public concerns.

Matsakis said the Cambridge Analytica revelations were a turning point in how the public thinks about Facebook. "That was really direct and people could really see where their data was going and how it was being misused," she said.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal led to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testifying on Capitol Hill to account for his company's actions.

Yet despite that, no action was taken toward Facebook at the federal level. Wednesday's lawsuit shows that might change, Matsakis said. "I think that 2019 is going to be a ticking time bomb for Facebook."

An illustration picture shows a woman looking at the Facebook website on a computer. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

This year, Facebook saw drops in its stock price — in July, its market valuation dropped by over $100 billion in one day — and declining growth in users.

With many people still moored to the social media platform for social and business reasons, Facebook probably won't lose too many losers, Matsakis said, but it's not perceived by users in the same way it once was.

"There was definitely a dent put in this year of the idea that Facebook is just trying to bring the world closer together. In reality, they're trying to sell as many ads as possible and I think that became much more apparent."


To hear the full interview with Louise Matsakis, click listen above or download our podcast.

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