Launched in 2004, Facebook has grown into a social media giant, and continues to be one of the most popular social media networks. Over the years, it has influenced the lives of many people, accumulating more than billion users today. It isn’t hard to see why a mere application in a vast sea of other applications and software would become so vital in everyday lives of people ranging from the common folks to the elite. In today’s fast-paced life, we seldom get enough time to connect with known people in our lives on a daily basis. Facebook has helped bridging this gap by providing a virtual meet-up space, to see and interact with those who need us in their life real time right from the comfort of your choice.
It gives people a chance to meet with friends, family and colleagues whom you haven’t seen in a decade. In turn, you share details about your life knowingly and, at times, unknowingly. Your Comments, Likes, Shares and Uploads; Facebook records these data and gains an insight into your psychological pattern. Whether you like it or not, your life isn’t as private as you think or would like it to be. This has always been a point of contention among human, privacy rights activists and Facebook. Facebook has always claimed that they are cautious and have taken all the necessary steps towards data privacy of their users worldwide. However, on the other hand, users know that Facebook shares their data with advertisers, to provide them with targeted advertisement based on their preferences. This has always irked the privacy concerns but has been ignored by majority of users most times, as it serves them in one way or the other.
But a recent revelation has landed Facebook in a soup and rather red faced. In March 2018 news broke about the massive data breach by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm. It has accused of gathering and monetizing personal data of about 87 million Facebook users. It was quite a disappointing news for users. The minority part of user data that was collected by consent for academic survey purposes was actually being used for altogether a different purpose, that has caused the uproar. User data collected through Facebook was used in various campaigns that the company ran for various political parties in different countries without informing the users. All this went on right under the noses of Facebook and they did little to stop it.
The same ill-gotten harvested data was used in some of the biggest political events in the recent memory, namely, The US Presidential elections and Britain’s referendum to exit The European Union a.k.a Brexit. The collected data was used to specifically profile, target and influence the voters. How much of it had any impact, is up for debate. This collection of data, though not considered illegal in the US would be illegal in Europe with its stricter data privacy laws. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower revealed, “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. That was the basis entire company that was built on.”
The news about Facebook being aware of its user data being harvested without their consent was highlighted some time back in late 2015, but it decided to keep the matter under the covers, and took limited steps to recover and secure the user data, and did not alert the affected users. This massive breach of trust on part of Facebook has caused an unprecedented backlash against it so much so that “Delete Facebook” hashtag was one of the most trending hashtag in the last couple of weeks and many followed through with it as well. While Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has come forward with an apology and promised to alter the inner workings of Facebook, but the damage has already been done.
The more we get to know about this scandal, the murkier it gets. This incident questions the definition of privacy in this digital age and whether you can ever be sure that your data won’t be misused. While this is just one instance of how your data was misused; with or without your consent, there’s always a possibility of the next Cambridge Analytica. The scandal has seen a renewed push for better regulation for the bigwigs in the data business, especially ones dealing with people’s information. Question is, how do we make sure something like this is never repeated when the data, especially regarding people, is worth way more than gold in the digital space?