Facebook saga sends out insecure message
Personal data breach affecting 50 million US users shows why those on social media need to take greater care or risk their rights being infringed
Facebook has enormous power to influence and manipulate that is not apparent to most of us in our interactions on the social media platform. But it is precisely because of such seemingly innocent activities that the internet behemoth is in trouble with users, governments and shareholders.
Personal data scraped without permission from 50 million of its American users was reportedly used by a private firm in an attempt to shape several elections, including Donald Trump’s successful presidential bid.
Facebook’s response to the scandal has been inadequate and outstanding questions about its business and security practices cannot be avoided.
Behind the breach is the London-based political data firm Cambridge Analytica, headed at the time by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
In an attempt to determine the personality of people likely to vote conservative, in 2014 it hired a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to take a quiz and download an app.
The app took information from the profiles of those users and their friends; Facebook was told information was being collected for academic research, but it was instead passed on to Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook reportedly found out about the breach in 2015 and appears to have asked Cambridge Analytica to destroy the information. Whether that happened is not known and legal authorities were not immediately called in.
Only last week when the matter emerged in the media was the company banned from Facebook and it has since suspended its chief executive officer.
The internet firm also says it has changed its rules on third-party apps, although given the gravity of the incident, it cannot end there – too many questions remain.
Facebook can too easily be used as a political tool and its ability to keep personal data safe is wanting; that is why the European Union will begin enforcing data protection measures in May.
Technology firms such as Facebook will not like that as they rely on data mining for advertising revenue and other aspects of doing business.
The abuses on their platforms have to be dealt with. Users of social media also have to take greater care; what we say and do online can have a value to others that may infringe our rights and worse.