“Privacy on the internet? That’s an Oxymoron.”
Big Data may bring many benefits: focused advertisements on what you want to buy, wearable devices that can monitor your health 24×7 and inform your doctor in case of any problem or smart cars that can help to avoid collisions. But, with these advantages come along big privacy issues. Thousands of data points are generated and recorded every day – where you go, who you communicate with, what you eat, what you buy, how much you sleep, how much you read and write. This data makes you vulnerable to exposure in ways which were unimaginable about a decade ago.
Cambridge Analytica, the British firm behind 2017 election campaign of US President Donald Trump and the UK government’s 2016 Brexit campaign, is under scrutiny from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, questions from the US government, and a suspension and audit from Facebook. Cambridge Analytica is a data analytics and a political consulting company. It was started in 2014 as a subsidiary of the British company SCL group(formerly Strategic Communications Laboratories) and was a means for them to participate in American politics.
The firm has been accused of harvesting private information from the Facebook profiles of over 50 million users without their permission, making it the largest data breach in the history of the website. A former employee and founder Christopher Wylie revealed this information to ‘The Observer’ and ‘The New York Times’.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” Wylie said. “That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
How it happened?
In an interview, Chris Wylie revealed the operations including a few secrets of the company. According to Wylie, a personality app designed by Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan was used by the company. This app was downloaded by a few people in the hundred thousand figures. Although, the number of downloads for the app wasn’t alarming at all, the major concern was that the app could be used to access data of not only people using the app but also their Facebook friends. And when you include the friends of these people, the number becomes very high. This data was used by the company to understand the app user opinions and then manipulating the content they saw on their Facebook walls. This could be used to target specific groups of people to sway their opinion in the desired direction.
Problems that added on
Facebook, which is under grave scrutiny and pressure by the US and British governments after media agencies revealed data leaks, was also accused of letting applications track user phone calls and maintaining detailed records of related metadata on dates, times, call durations, recipients and phone numbers. In response, the company published a fact check thereafter, denying all allegations, and saying that this is an “opt-in” feature, only valid after permission from users.
An investigation by Ars Technica, taking off from Facebook user Dylan McKay’s viral tweet on March 21, revealed that this data breach pertains only to those Android users who have granted certain data approvals to the Facebook Lite and Facebook Messenger applications. In a series of tweets, McKay revealed that Facebook had “the metadata of every cellular call I’ve ever made, including time and duration.”
Mark Zuckerberg, under stern questioning by U.S. lawmakers, said Facebook Inc. collects information on consumers who aren’t registered as users, acknowledging something that’s been reported but not publicly spelled out by the company.
“In general we collect data on people who are not signed up for Facebook for security purposes,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday in a hearing about the social network’s privacy practices in Washington before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
There are over 20 crore users of Facebook in the country and the Indian government last month had sent notices to both Facebook and Analytica on the data breach issue.
Data mining firm Analytica has been accused of harvesting personal information of over millions of Facebook users illegally to influence polls in several countries.
A few days back Facebook admitted that data on about 87 million people — mostly in the US — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
According to the details shared by a Facebook spokesperson, 335 people in India were directly affected through an app installation, another 562,120 people were potentially affected as friends of those users.
“This yields a total of 562,455 potentially affected people in India, which is 0.6 percent of the global number of potentially affected people,” Facebook spokesperson added.
The company said it is “investigating” the specific number of people whose information was accessed, including those in India.
Facebook has been forced to issue a public apology due to global outrage over the breach of user data on Facebook.
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last month warned the firm of “stringent” action for any attempt to influence polls through data theft and threatening to summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, if needed after Facebook’s data breach scandal which has sparked a furore in India.
A world without Facebook or we must find an alternative?
We may worry about the extreme consequences of this event, for the timeline of my life would be ruined if Facebook had to shut its account. We depend on Facebook in the same way the Trump campaign depended on Cambridge Analytica. We begin our day by checking Facebook, scrolling down the wall and finding how many likes did our last post received. Some even believe that Facebook has brought silence to the offline world, for good or bad is not known. As we travel in a metro in Delhi all are busy scrolling down Facebook and tagging their friends that their inner hulk is busy there instead of abusing someone.
A post-Facebook world would also raise deep philosophical and existential questions. How will you tell the world “What’s on your mind?” Will I have to go to the railway station and distribute flyers with pictures of my lunch? Facebook is the best way to be connected with everyone and still never have to speak to anyone.
In the wake of this data scandal several people, including famous actors and other eminent personalities, lost trust in the social networking giant and deleted their accounts. As Facebook struggles to restore its image, Orkut Buyukkokten—founder of yesteryear social media site Orkut—launched a new social network called Hello in India. Buyukkokten reportedly claimed that no data will be shared with third-party applications, which will likely be welcome news to many potential users.
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