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Facebook Privacy Violations

Question : 

Search in the news an article about privacy violations. Describe briefly the reported incidents and discuss its privacy implications.  What is your opinion that countries can do to handle this privacy violations. Privacy violations cannot be older than two years.


Answer

Privacy Violations

Executive Summary

In today’s world where internet and virtual reality has taken over and everyone has become digitally connected. Sometimes, this is an advantage as people are able to reach each other conveniently and quickly. Additionally, they are well informed about various types of news, happenings, events and people. However, sometimes, this may be unfavourable for an individual. This happens when an individual’s privacy is violated or invaded. 

In such cases, the web applications or the website asks for more and more private information of an individual to let the individual use added functionalities of that application. In this scenario, information security comes at the focal point because in majority cases, the individual is unaware of the consequences of sharing this private information so as to be able to use added functionalities of the application. There can be said to be low level of awareness amongst the users regarding the implications of them allowing applications to use their private information.

Such a violation of privacy can have grave consequences, such as, login details being compromised, personal data being misused, harvesting of data etc. (Kirsten, 2018).

One of the most recent cases of privacy violation gained momentous attention and it related to Facebook policies regarding privacy of its users and their data being misappropriated. The following pages will discuss the timeline of data misappropriation and how the company faced a lawsuit in 2018.

Introduction

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) is a social media and networking platform that is headquartered in California. The company website was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and other founding members. Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO and chairman of the company. Facebook was listed in 2012 and touched a record market capitalization of $104 million. The major source of revenue for the company is through advertisements.

Any individual can create an account by registering on the platform and providing details such as name, email address, gender, occupation etc. The users can add friends, post status updates, exchange messages, photos, and videos and even create communities. The company allows access to the social networking platform through desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. As of January 2018, the company had 2.2 billion monthly active users.

However, the company has received widespread negative coverage due to various issues such as, spread of fake news, hate speech, violence through the platform. Further, the company allows anyone claiming to be more than 13 years of age to register on the platform. The rule also received flak as even kids younger than 13 years of age were found to be registering on the website. The latest addition to the negative media coverage was regarding the Cambridge Analytica related privacy violation that led to a lawsuit as well (NBCnews.com, 2018).

Timeline of events

Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica Ltd. (CA) was a data analytics company founded in 2013 in London, United Kingdom. The parent company was SCL Group and the CEO was Alexander Nix. The company uses data to alter consumer behaviour and is active in commercial as well as political fields (Company Website, 2018).

SCL group’s founder member, Nigel Oakes was image manager for the Indonesian prime minister as well. The company had millions of dollars of investment from Robert Mercer, an American investor who is known to support political causes and Steve Bannon, who later became White House Chief Strategist. 

Allegedly, the company used available data to gather information on various voters, demographics, consumer behaviour etc. and uses the same to alter behaviour. The major in the company was based on the work of Michal Kosinski, an academician who proved through series of work that people can be analysed and profiled basis their general information and data available online, such as Facebook likes or phone data. Further, he developed a profiling system that could be used as a tool to target individuals on a psychological basis and alter and or predict their behaviour (Kosinski, Stillwell & Graepel, 2013).

According to Alexander Nix, the CEO of the company, Cambridge Analytica has worked on more than 40 political campaigns in the United States in 2014 itself. Additionally, the company also provided data analysis services for prominent events such as United Kingdom’s public referendum to decide whether to stay or leave European Union and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The company claims it targeted voters and collected data for demographics so as to affect the behaviour and psychology of these voters.

The company filed for bankruptcy in May, 2018 and closed operations. The company as succeeded by a company called, Emerdata. 

Events

Although the company, Facebook has been a profitable one with strong user base, the history of the company has been smeared with various issues related to regulators, users etc. The latest in the string of allegations regarding data sharing is the scandal with Cambridge Analytica. The incident led to a lot of damage to Facebook’s reputation and credibility (CNBCnews.com, 2018).

In line with the activities of the company, Cambridge Analytica was working on impacting decisions related to Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. 

In 2010, Facebook had launched a platform known as ‘Open Graph’ that allowed third party applications an access to Facebook users’ data. Facebook allowed these apps to reach out to Facebook users and request them to grant permission to use their personal data through these apps. Not only this, once a Facebook user allowed this permission, the app got access to personal data of not only that user but also all Facebook users who were connected to that user. The data that was accessible included information such as name, gender, location, birthday, education, political preferences, relationship status, religious views, online chat status and more. In some cases, even private messages of the users could be accessed.

Using the same platform, Cambridge academic, Aleksandr Kogan’s company, Global Science Research created a a third party app ‘Thisisyourdigitallife’ and created a survey that required users to answer questions in order to create a psychological profile. This app was launched on Facebook and data was collected on users through emans of this survey. Since a Facebook user who granted permission and accepted the survey shared not only his information but also information of all the connected friends as well. This led to accumulation of personal data for more than millions of users.

Addressing the concerns of users regarding Open Graph, Facebook changed the rules regarding privacy concerns such that now, the data was accessible only for user who explicitly accepted it and not for the connected users. However, this was applicable only 2014 onwards and since Global Science Research had already accumulated data prior to this period, Facebook apparently had no control over it.

In 2015, it was learnt that Cambridge Analytica, was using the collected data to impact political campaigns and decisions. Particularly, the company was helping Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign against Donald Trump. Facebook sought legal measures in order to get Kogan and Cambridge Analytica to delete all the data gathered from the platform. The companies confirmed to have obliged.

In 2016, Donald Trump sought services from data consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and with their advice, invested large sums in Facebook’s advertisements. 

Final Events to lawsuit

In March 2018, the media dailies The Guardian and The New York Times broke news publicly that more than 50 million users of Facebook faced data privacy violations as their data had been harvested and handed over to Cambridge Analytica for political campaigning and psychological profiling purposes. The number later rose to 87 million users of Facebook.

It was claimed that this harvested data was used to psychologically target people to become pro-Trump by circulating material and articles that led to this result. Cambridge Analytica denied that Kogan’s company data was used in anyway.

In March 2018, the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation to see if Facebook had violated agreements entered into in 2011 with the government agency in order to protect user privacy. This led Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook to issue a statement regarding the same including changes in accessibility to third party apps as well as limiting user data to be handed over to them. Cambridge Analytica was banned from Facebook. The CEO also appeared for hearing before the judiciary committees (CNBCnews.com, 2018).

Conclusion

It was seen that the loose handling of data by Facebook led to misuse of personal data of the Facebook users. Additionally, the users also trusted and allowed the apps to use their data.

To avoid this, more awareness should be spread among citizens so as to ensure that the personal data is shared only on need to know basis and that too with reliable and trustworthy platforms or apps only. Further, the users should be educated on how read the terms and conditions and understand the implications when they share their personal data with a third party.


In March 2018, the media dailies The Guardian and The New York Times broke news publicly that more than 50 million users of Facebook faced data privacy violations as their data had been harvested and handed over to Cambridge Analytics for political campaigning

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