By RACHEL SYIEMLIEH | May 9, 2018
Last month saw social media giant, Facebook’s first true crisis: Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm used by Trump’s presidential campaign duped the company to acquire and use data on 50 million oblivious users, which was then misused for political ads during the 2016 Presidential Election. The scandal immediately prompted people not only in the US, but the entire world to reassess their relationship with the site – “Why have we surrendered our privacy to social media so willingly?”. Perhaps one of the most consequential data breaches in history, the scandal has been predicted to rival even the breach of financial records from Equifax.
A CA whistle-blower account to the Observer blew up the news stating that after an app called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ was built to get voluntary information from thousands of users through a personality quiz, the app also collected Facebook data from unknowing friends of these volunteers which was meant to be used to improve “app experience”, the social media giant stated. The data was then allegedly used to develop techniques for influencing voters such as profiling individual US voters, targeting them with personalised political advertisements. While Cambridge Analytica denied the allegations, questions still linger over whether the Trump campaign did indeed benefit from the data.
On April, Facebook admitted that the breach was not restricted to the United States, but to India as well. 5.6 lakh Indian users, it was revealed, have had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. In a generation where the control of personal data is gradually slipping away from our hands, both online and offline (I-phone tracking, free internet use, India’s Aadhar regulations, banks, etc), the Cambridge Analytics data breach still appears pale in comparison to the magnanimous amount of data that Facebook itself has on its own users, with its varied personalised ads, personality quizzes, check-ins, location, video adverts to match different gamer styles, posts and comments you leave and read to the very message you type out then delete before sending. The system they have built could find your sexual orientation, childhood trauma, relationship status, political views, vulnerability and much more.
While younger users have decided to delete Facebook over the years owing to the rise of rivals such as Snapchat and the belief that Facebook is now an old-people platform, it still remains one of the most used and powerful apps in the digital age. It is still exceptional in the business of providing pier to advertisers and its ability to target more than half the people in varied developed markets. Such a breach of privacy doesn’t end at Facebook and Cambridge Analytics. The fact is that this breach shows that any such company, can target your data and build an entire character profile based on what you do online. Over the years, concerns have been raised over Google being a warehouse of millions of Internet users’ searches. Questions have also been raised regarding its helplessness over giving away all such information to the US government if required.
Various security services continue to build their own surveillance databases, with powers strengthened in every field. People all over the world are regularly accepting terms and conditions that require them to give up their data, without reading or considering the consequences of the terms at all. The fact of the matter is all our online information has been and will be used by big corporations to fill their pockets, with every click on the ‘I Agree’ button contributing to their economic harvests.
Zuckerberg broke his silence five long days after the scandal with a word post on his Facebook page. He acknowledged Facebook’s mistakes on the post and promised an investigation into apps that have access to “large amounts of information” before the company made changes to how much information third-party apps could access in 2018.
While Zuckerberg will still clearly be under endless scrutiny and investigation, the scandal serves to be only a microcosm of the massive age of data manipulation. While one can delete Facebook, (where you’d have to navigate your way through deactivation instead of deletion and other unhelpful options), the company just like Google could still track you via cookies and like buttons across the web and make a profit in the process. The company also claims it may take up to 90 days to remove your information from its servers. While deleting Facebook is one step towards what we deem freedom or escape, Facebook-owned apps, Instagram and Whatsapp still boast an ever increasing amount of users.
The internet has undoubtedly cemented its place in the everyday world and removing an app from your phone or refraining from using it on your computer may seem like a freedom card from the baddies trying to misuse your data. It must be remembered, however, that caution in an age of surveillance means a whole lot more than deleting a single app.
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