ACLU data sharing appears to contradict its positions on Facebook
The ACLU has taken on Facebook a number of times, mostly in cases that involved privacy and discriminatory profiling practices. The case that was settled in 2019 forced Facebook to stop including certain categories of personal data, such as age and gender, in targeted advertising concerning job opportunities, housing and credit. The organization also contributed to the 2019 case in Illinois that cleared a path for state residents to sue Facebook over illicit use of their biometric information. And last year, the ACLU asked a federal court of appeals to unseal a decision that would reveal why a judge ruled that Facebook did not have to comply with a law enforcement request for encrypted WhatsApp messages, information that could be used for legal defense by other companies in the future.
Fortune reports that the ACLU has spent some $5 million on Facebook ads since May 2018, and about half a million dollars on 1,100 Google ads. A former ACLU attorney that spoke to Fortune suggested that there may be disconnect between the legal and fundraising departments of the group that has led to the group’s seemingly inconsistent position on data sharing.
The ACLU has taken criticism in recent years for pivoting away from an absolute defense of free speech principles, something that had formerly been such a cornerstone belief of the group that it went to bat for Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The organization began having an internal debate about how to weigh free speech versus protection of marginalized groups after the 2017 rally in Charlottesville that saw a counter-protestor killed and 19 others injured in a car attack by a white supremacist. Conservative commentators have criticized the group for expending the bulk of its energy and resources on issues of identity politics rather than protection of universal rights.
The Wall Street Journal reports that while the group was well-funded during the Trump years, it is now struggling to maintain the levels of donations that it is accustomed to. That could pressure it to make compromises on decisions regarding personal privacy, such as making use of potentially invasive sources of targeted advertising to reach new donors.