What’s Facebook’s status after 2018 scandals?

#10YearChallenge could be another security concern, users say

Facebook suffered a number of data breaches throughout 2018.

Not too long ago, the #10YearChallenge would've taken over our newsfeeds for a few days before dropping out of cultural relevancy, as most internet trends do.

However, Facebook has become increasingly untrustworthy after last year’s data breaches and intrusive practices, the social media challenge is being examined as a sinister plan to improve the corporation's algorithms for identification and age progression.

The #10YearChallenge asks users to post two side-by-side photos of themselves 10 years apart. The trend took Facebook and Instagram—which Facebook owns—by storm earlier this month, and seemed like an easy way to poke fun at past hairstyles and poor fashion choices.

However, a viral tweet by author Kate O'Neill on Jan. 12 threatened the cheerful narrative surrounding the challenge. In the tweet, O'Neill wrote the challenge led her to wonder "how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition."

The tweet stoked fear in the hearts of users who thought they were innocently juxtaposing their current selves to their younger counterparts. As of today, the tweet has over 11,000 retweets, nearly 25,000 likes, and hundreds of comments from people worried for their digital safety.

It's true sites like Facebook and Instagram already have significant amounts of data about their users' appearances, extracted from numerous photos posted across many years. Millions of posts comparing photos from a decade ago to now provide corporations with clean sets of data to analyze potential forms of age-progression technology. 

While this data may be used for ordinary purposes, or not used at all, the scariest element at the heart of O'Neill's tweet is that we, the users, probably wouldn't know what Facebook decides to do with it.

Facebook has come under fire in the past year for a number of transparency issues and data breaches. In March, political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was found to have improperly obtained data from up to 87 million Facebook accounts, and used the information collected to assist the Trump and Brexit campaigns with targeted political ads. In November, The New York Times reported Facebook executives tried to downplay concerns of privacy infringement and Russian hacking.

The latest in this worrying saga hit at the end of December, with The Times reporting Facebook had given various major corporations they partnered with far more access to users' private data than previously disclosed. These breaches included allowing Netflix and Spotify to read users' private messages, letting Microsoft's Bing search engine view users’ Facebook friends list without their consent, and giving Yahoo access to users' friends' posts as recently as this past summer.

The #10YearChallenge could easily be unrelated to all of these troubling instances. Facebook itself stated in a tweet—of all things—that the challenge was "user-generated" and simply "evidence of the fun people have on Facebook." Any data collected from the challenge could only be used to improve features that tag you in friends' photos, which have already been in place on Facebook since 2010.

It's a shame that we find ourselves analyzing fun challenges like this one to determine the degree that Facebook may secretly be using its 2.2 billion users' information. However, when the alternative seems to be willingly providing data to potential security threats, it's better to err on the safe side and consider how Facebook could be playing us through a harmless-looking meme.

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