Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Facebook’s negligence in ‘Analytica’


It is, so far, the biggest technology and privacy story of the year which is yet another major blow to Facebook’s image, market value and future business model.

The scandal regarding Cambridge Analytica acquiring and utilizing Facebook data on 50 million users, without their knowledge, and then utilizing it for online political campaigns during the 2016 US election, is being heavily reported and covered.

Unfortunately, the majority of Facebook users worldwide just got on with their supposedly normal addiction to using their favorite social media channel, but everyone us who cares about his/her privacy must carefully consider what this all means, and what can be done to somewhat protect yourself.

To begin with, we must understand that Facebook’s power comes from how well it knows you. Every post you like, every page you follow and every cause you support tells Facebook who you are, what you could buy and who you could vote for! This data is a treasure for advertisers to utilize. Last year, 98% of Facebook’s revenue was made through advertising. The stunning figure was $39.9 Billion US Dollars.



With the money rolling in, Facebook was negligent and did not consider what happens when all the data falls in the wrong hands, and did not have the correct measures to prevent this! This is, basically, what the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal is about. The company acquired the information on 50 Million users; from an academic who had an app that Facebook says was ‘a research tool’. It was a personality test that you take on Facebook. But, when any user took the test, the app also collected data from the profiles of their friends. What a loop-hole!

It seems that Facebook realized this in 2014 and applied stricter policies on developers accessing user data, but the damage was done. That’s why Mark Zukcerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has apologized, stated that the company takes these matters seriously and testified to congress about this data scandal. Lawmakers and regulators want to enact laws that ensure more transparency regarding data practices of tech companies and more accountability.

Though the idea of ‘micro-targeting’ and hiring ‘data scientists’ is a well-known practice in political campaigns, including the ‘Brexit vote’ campaign in the UK, the issue now is to draw the line between micro-targeting and manipulation.

So, back to what you can do. By visiting the ‘Settings’ page, at the bottom of the ‘general account section, you can click an option to download a copy of your data. Facebook then emails you a link, within minutes. The information you will get is fascinating! The data is segmented into groups, such as ‘Ads’, ‘Contact Info’, Events, Messages, ‘TimeLine’ and others. For example, under advertisers, you’ll see which companies have you on their list of target customers. It will be surprising which sellers think you’re a potential customer! You can ‘uncheck’ the boxes beside the names of the advertisers who you don’t want to be targeted by.

You can also see some contact info (including phone numbers gained from the mobile app) of several contacts you added over the years. Facebook even preserves conversations and chats with people who you’ve forgotten about! In some ways, this trip down memory lane could even be painful! Beware, Facebook’s memory is impeccable.

Next, check which Facebook apps you’ve got which have been granted access to your account. These could range from games, to utilities to Facebook login assistants for other services that you use. Remove whatever you can of these apps and revoke their access. After all, it was an app that gave Cambridge Analytica the data it abused.

Looking at the bigger picture, beyond the abuses by a political campaign, there is the matter of governments and others in power quietly watching each one of us, judging us and manipulating us at a previously unachievable scale of ‘mass human programmed response’ to achieve a new age of authoritarianism which we mistakenly believe to be an age of freedom!

Still, despite all these appalling facts, it is not easy to move on from a daily addictive like Facebook. So, if you don’t yet want to take the radical path of deleting your Facebook account, perhaps you can first start with being smarter about the information that you give Facebook and other social networks, and watch how Facebook is raising the levels of protection and privacy and protection it offers users. If you’re still not satisfied after that, then as the popular hashtag says, #DeleteFacebok.

The wider realization is the reality is that none of the Internet services you use ‘for free’ are actually free, as you’re giving these companies your attention and data which they will monetize or possibly abuse. If you think about it, social media services are not actually the product, you are!

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