(Image courtesy Pixabay)

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

Billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is throwing a “red herring” at Americans when he tries to justify his company’s collection and sale of users’ personal data, a privacy advocate contends.

“No matter how Zuckerberg slices it, Facebook’s business model revolves around monetizing your data,” wrote Gennie Gebhart, Jason Kelley and Bennett Cyphers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

They were responding to Zuckerberg’s recent claim that he needs ads to keep his platform free of charge.

And he emphasizes the ads need to be “relevant” to users, because they have expressed that desire.

To do fulfill that desire, he argues, Facebook must “understand their interests.”

The company has been hit by scandals such as the sale of the data of 87 million users to the political research firm Cambridge Analytica. Recently, Facebook confessed it had granted more access of user data to Netflix than it had admitted.

The Federal Trade Commission has been asked to investigate.

EFF charged Zuckerberg “relies on all-too-familiar refrains to explain the dubious principles and so-called ‘facts’ behind Facebook’s business model.”

“It’s the same old song we’ve heard before. And, as usual, it wildly misses users’ actual privacy concerns and preferences,” the privacy group said.

EFF addressed the claim about ad relevancy.

“This perpetuates the ad industry’s favorite false dichotomy: either consumers can have ‘relevant’ ads – targeted using huge collections of sensitive behavioral data – or they can be bombarded by spam for knock-off Viagra and weight-loss supplements,” they wrote.

But the truth, EFF said, “is that ads can be made ‘relevant’ and profitable based on the context in which they’re shown, like putting ads for outdoor gear in a nature magazine.”

“To receive relevant ads, you do not need to submit to data brokers harvesting the entire history of everything you’ve done on and off the web and using it to build a sophisticated dossier about who you are.”

They also criticize Zuckerberg’s contention that users have control of their data, citing Pew Research.

“Pew found that 74 percent of U.S. adult Facebook users didn’t even know that Facebook maintained information on their advertising interests and preferences in the first place. When Pew directed users to the ad preferences page where some of this information resides, 88 percent found there that Facebook had generated inferences about them, including household income level and political and ethnic ‘affinities.’ Over a quarter of respondents said the categories ‘do not very or at all accurately represent them.'”

EFF pointed out half of users are not comfortable with Facebook creating data lists about them. And they argue they must navigate a labyrinth to “decline” Facebook’s data collection options.

“Next, Zuckerberg deploys Facebook’s favorite PR red herring: he says that Facebook does not sell your data. It may be the case that Facebook does not transfer user data to third parties in exchange for money. But there are many other ways to invade users’ privacy. For example, the company indisputably does sell access to users’ personal information in the form of targeted advertising spots.”

And EFF points out that while Zuckerberg says he wants government regulation to ensure “transparency,” in reality his company “is tirelessly fighting against laws that might do just that.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.