Cody Willoughby

Facebook Lies and Personal Lives – A Summary of the Facebook Data Scandal

Image courtesy of Cody Willoughby

We are the Facebook generation. But until now, it had never been apparent as to what that really means. It turns out that this means what we thought were our private lives, are not ‘private’ at all.

This March it was uncovered that Facebook has been selling user data to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The firm has been around since 2013 and mines data to analyse and use to strategically advertise on the behalf of candidates for an electoral process or for commercial purposes. The company proudly admits to using data to influence and change consumer behaviours.

This type of practice is not unheard of in the world of marketing. Businesses find out our location, interests and personal information from our activities on social media. Companies have then been using our data in their favour to specifically market at individuals to increase revenue and manipulate business to customer relations.

You might think buying and selling data between two major global businesses has nothing to do with us as students, but as the generation that grew up posting pictures, instant messaging friends and sharing every activity and interest online for the world to see, we’ve never taken a moment to think about who can see this and what is really happening with this information. The most disturbing action rumoured to have been taken by Cambridge Analytica is the invasion in some private messages.  So not only do companies have access to information about us that we share openly to our friends, but they can also view what we are saying behind closed doors.

The scandal was brought to light by Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. He came forward to expose the firm of spending millions of dollars on manipulating data to micro-target voters for the US presidential election, giving Donald Trump a major advantage.

It is easy to see why this is wrong; not only because the data was collected without proper consent of users, but also because one of the biggest campaigns to date was based on restoring the ‘greatness’ of America – Trump was obviously not referring to upholding the constitutional right to privacy in this slogan. This was a breach of trust and democracy, yet it is no breach of law?

Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for the advertisements and agreed to testify before US congress but lawmakers are still demanding an investigation into Facebook’s privacy policies. However, as 50 million users have been victims of data theft, there does seem to be some attempt to restore confidentiality to the network. Zuckerberg claims to be adding a “Privacy Shortcuts” feature allowing users to view and download their data and manage ads.

Along with the alterations made to Facebook itself, General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will be enforcing new laws this May. Worryingly, the data protection act that these laws will be replacing had not been updated since 1998; to put that into perspective, the law regarding our personal data online for 20 years was created at a time that mobile phones and laptops were a rare and luxury item (that’s most advanced software was the game Snake). Fortunately, the new act will give us, as users of social media and consumers online more individual rights; including the right to be forgotten, consent, fully informed, rectification, and data portability. This all means that any company carrying out immoral practice, arguably like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, could be facing large law suites and fines.

However, we cannot be overly dependent on the idea that implementing a new legislation will fully protect our information. Corporations will probably always possess the power to obtain our online activities, so long as we want the service that they provide. For example, if you want to use Google, to have to agree to their terms and conditions, it’s as simple as that. Although they may not be allowed to store our data for as long, or pass the information onto third parties, we as users will almost always be willing to hand over our cookies in return for a service that is necessary to us in this technological society.

Truthfully, it is unsurprising that so many industries have been getting away with making profits from our data for so long, as there has been such little consequence for this somewhat corrupt trade. The reality is that the complexity of technology embedded in our society is moving faster than we can keep up with, and we are experiencing consequences that we are yet to fully understand. This simply means that we should be more vigilant with our online activities, and as Facebook and social media users, we should be more reserved with what we are sharing with the world, as we will never know who is listening.

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