The recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scam led to one the biggest controversy in the world around data privacy and security. In the wake of Facebook’s massive mishandling of user data, people across the world raised a huge question on the data protection and data privacy. It all started with a Cambridge researcher Alexander Kogan who built an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ which gave Kogan access not only to the data of Facebook users who used the app but also the people they were connected to.
This led to personal data of nearly 87 million Facebook users being accessible to Kogan. While Kogan claimed to Facebook that this was being done purely for research purposes, it is now alleged that he went ahead and sold this information to a company called Cambridge Analytica whose one of the co-founders was the chief strategist on the Trump campaign. CA then used this information to do very specific targeted advertising and spread pro-Trump and anti-Clinton propaganda during the US presidential 2016 elections.
Post outbreak of the news, Facebook admitted that they were informed about this in 2016 but all they did was to ask Kogan and CA to delete all of the data they had acquired. However, Facebook did not undertake to validate this forensically, or involve law enforcement, or inform the 50 million affected users, or even investigate which other apps might have tried to pull off a similar stunt. And this is what makes the entire saga that much more sordid.
We are living in a highly virtualized world. We wake up and first check our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. When we visit a place, eat at a restaurant, attend our child’s annual day, our first thought is to post about this online and that is how we are feeding a lot of information on the social media sites about what we like, what makes someone happy or sad, or what our political and religious views are, how much time we spend at a particular location, how we get there, what we do when we get there, who are the other people at that same location, etc. And that’s how it makes a very crucial to know what information we are providing and if it can be misused or manipulated by even the most trusted social media apps and sites.
The entire model of most social media sites – Facebook most of all – is inherently flawed. People and businesses produce the content and then the same people and businesses consume the content. Facebook decides who sees what content and allows business and marketers to target consumers very specifically. This type of micro-customisations leads us to live in our bubble zones and listen to more and more of the same type of content, which aligns to our thought process, and which in turn reinforces existing prejudices. We all use so many social media apps and sites in our day to day life but what we don’t realize is that Facebook and other social media apps hoover up a tremendous amount of information about our calls, emails, messages, locations, search items, videos we watch online, articles we read, books and other things we buy online etc.
We are not only giving up so much of our private information to these organisations, but we are also signing away any reasonable expectations that they will use this information responsibly, and not manipulate us. On the contrary, their entire business models are built on manipulating us into believing things that organisations want us to believe and buying things that marketers believe appeal to people who fit a particular demographic and psychological profile. The only way out is to make a start by deleting Facebook from our phones and from our lives. Else, we will all be inhabiting Orwell’s dystopian 1984 world, and soon war will be peace, freedom will be slavery and ignorance will be strength.
The author is Founder & CEO of Network Intelligence – Global Cyber Security Services provider.