May 31, 2018

THE FACEBOOK SCANDAL

Words: Andre Rodrigues

‘Facebook is slowly becoming a pariah in the tech world as all the tech bigwigs are deserting it’

DECEIT, THEFT, COVER-UPS, APOLOGIES AND POLITICAL FOUL PLAY ARE JUST THE BEGINNING IN FACEBOOK’S GROWING SMEAR

Ever wondered why Facebook ads are so eerily well targeted? Sometimes, it actually seems to know things that are going on in our minds. While we were about poking friends and co-workers, stalking exes, and taking pointless quizzes on what Friends character we are or which celebrity you look like, Facebook, the largest social network, was busy mining all our data, collecting, and profiling us. With an army of complex data analytics and AI, it can not only pick you out of a crowd of people in a badly lit bar, but it also serves up friends suggestions that some people found out to be their long lost siblings. Now imagine all of this data in the wrong hands. Enter Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy firm that played a big part in US mid-term elections in 2014 and the 2016 presidential elections, that period in modern history where all of our timelines resembled circuses. It was at this time that Cambridge Analytica acquired millions of user data from Facebook. Through a researcher Aleksandr Kogan who developed that app that would connect data of over 30 million users from their Facebook account to create psychographic profiles – creating a personality quiz that would mine all of the users’ data as well as their friends. According to Facebook’s statement to CNBC, the app was ‘part of a research program in the Department of Psychology’ and it was used in ‘learning about how people’s Facebook behaviour can be used to better understand their psychological traits, well-being, health, etc and overcome classic problems in social science.

Users of the app will be presented with a description of the types of data we gather and the scientific purpose of the data. Users will be informed that the data will be carefully protected and never used for commercial purposes.’ Except that unknown to all, was that all of this information was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, and was then used to target certain demographics. This information came to light when a whistleblower came forward with hard evidence in the form of documents on Cambridge Analytica to The Guardian. Citing that the company had personal and private data of what amounts to 50 million Facebook user profiles. Used to target users with political campaigns for the 2016 Presidential Elections in the US. All mined from psychometric profiles right off of Facebook. Kick starting a very bad few weeks for Facebook. According to a statement by Facebook Deputy General Counsel “The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent.

People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.” Which is true, unlike the Sony pictures hack of 2014, there was nothing compromised. However, what remains is the fact that one app was able to get private data and through that another company was able to figure out voting patterns and how to influence them. Just one foray into the jungle that is Facebook’s settings page you will notice the very helpful data dump that Facebook allows you to download. In this you will see the extent of data Facebook stores on you. All those terms of service agreements you have clicked “I Agree” on has allowed the tech giant to gather all this info, which it wilfully hands over to any app that it shakes hands with. Sure, there are precautions in place, and it could be possible that Aleksandr Kogan’s app had a human element to the breach. But to add more fuel to the fire, Facebook having only found out about the breach years later in 2016, waited months to order Cambridge Analytica to delete the data. This was ignored by the latter, and Facebook neglected to follow up and make sure the data was secure.

Mark Zuckerberg, the “I’m CEO, Bitch” of Facebook has taken out full page ads in major American and British newspapers to apologise to users for its breach in trust. To apply a salve to sooth the user fury, Facebook has stopped apps asking for data. Too little too late, as the #deletefacebook hashtag has been spreading like wildfire. Prompting users to delete and deactivate their Facebook accounts. In the wake of the scandal, several prominent advertisers have been pulling out of the platform. Facebook is slowly becoming a pariah in the tech world as all the tech bigwigs are deserting it. Illustrated by Elon Musk perfectly when he tweeted that he would delete the Tesla and SpaceX Facebook pages and then he went ahead and did it.

With the FTC announcing that they’re investigating the privacy data breach and the plummeting share price, Facebook has a lot to worry about. As every day there seems to be a new fresh fact or data breach that seems to be surfacing like bad burps after a particularly drunk outing at Sion Koliwada. Facebook clearly has a lot of soul searching to do, and we don’t mean searching for people in their databases. Hopefully they come back not with assurances as full page ads, but comeback with a plan to assure that our data is safe from outside elements. For now, be careful what quizzes and games you play on Facebook. As it may cost you a lot more than you bargain for, when it’s being used to rig an election, serve you fake news and worst case, steal your identity.

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