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Facebook data breach: Is it the start of the end for social media?

FAQs you may have about the Facebook data breach… answered!

brunch Updated: Apr 15, 2018 09:30 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
facebook,social media,#deletefacebook
Cambridge Analytica offers its services to businesses and political parties who want to ‘change people’s behaviour’

In my last column, I wrote about how #deletefacebook was gaining momentum and how science has proven that social media as a collective is terrible for mankind. In the current scenario where a new headline on the Facebook data breach surfaces every hour, the column seemed to resonate and I was flooded with questions. The most important and most frequently asked one was if this was the start of the end of social media? So, it’s time to play the devil’s advocate and answer some FAQs.

How many people were really affected by Facebook’s data breach?

As many as 87 million, but that’s a conservative estimate. I’m not the one saying that the number could be much higher, it’s Mark Zuckerberg himself. He suggested that during a media briefing.

Isn’t that a ridiculously high number of people?

Yes, it is. And by the time all of this blows over, it’ll be way higher.

What sophisticated hacking tools did Cambridge Analytica use?

None. The UK-based academic, Aleksandr Kogan, set up a personality test app within Facebook. People took the test and Kogan collected the details of the people and their Facebook friends who took the test. Kogan sold the details to Cambridge Analytica.

But that means that it’s just some of us who have had our private data hacked?

Facebook is the single largest data broker in the world

Nope. Most probably, it’s all of us. Many of you may not have known about this ‘power feature’. On Facebook, anyone can enter a phone number or email address and find the Facebook profile associated with it. But now, it seems that this feature has been abused to scrape data by using simple scripts. The scary part? Facebook acknowledged the abuse and released an official statement: “Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped.”

How could Facebook let the Cambridge Analytica data breach happen?

Facebook is a company built for profit and is answerable to its shareholders. It must make money. It doesn’t have anything else to sell but your data that you feed to it. Facebook is the single largest data broker in the world.

What does Facebook say?

Well, not much, because this is normal. For years, this is exactly how third party data brokers have done business with Facebook. It has even officially said that it had granted Kogan permission to access the information. After the scandal broke, Facebook has said that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica are ‘bad actors’ as they used this data for commercial purposes.

Who is Cambridge Analytica and what do they do?

Cambridge Analytica offers its services to businesses and political parties who want to ‘change people’s behaviour’! A whistle-blower has called Cambridge Analytica’s work as nothing short of a ‘full-service propaganda machine’. They’ve been accused of influencing Brexit, the US elections and a whole lot more.

Facebook has banned third party brokers and set up better security, so I’m safe, right?

No. They’ve banned third party brokers, not collecting your data. That will continue. Thus, it will be sold – maybe at better rates now as Facebook will do it directly. Ironically, Facebook may profit from a problem of their own making! Also, Zuckerberg himself has said that it could take another two years to fully safeguard users’ data.

So, is it the start of the end of social media?

Not at all. Remember, ‘If its free, then you’re the product’. We all have become slaves to the social media machine. Time to use the product, get all the benefits and give none of them away. I will get into the details of how to do that in a future column.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, April 15, 2018

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First Published: Apr 14, 2018 23:14 IST