How safe is your personal data online?
Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica are at the forefront of a dispute over the harvesting and use of personal data.
It is alleged that information was used to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.
However, both firms deny any wrongdoing.
The personal data was gathered using Facebook’s infrastructure, and many other developers had also taken advantage of it, but the data was not authorised to be shared with third parties.
Facebook defended themselves saying when they learned their privacy rules had been breached, they removed the app and demanded assurances that the information has been delete.
Cambridge Analytica claims that it never used the data, and deleted it when Facebook told it to.
Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg said it was a mistake to share personal information with app developers.
But ECU’s Cyber Security Expert, David Cook, said Zuckerberg’s apology didn’t go far enough in terms of assuring people that their data won’t be breached again.
Facebook is investigating whether more apps on its social network were harvesting and selling users’ personal information, and will inform users who have already had their details stolen.
With over 22 billion active accounts, 50 million accounts were affected.
Fear over personal data exploitation has lead to the twitter hashtag #DeleteFacebook, and people have started to do exactly that.
Mr Cook said although people are deleting their accounts, their social media presence is still active long after the account is gone.
“If you have a look at the terms of service of Facebook you can see that after 90 days most people’s data can be retained and used by Facebook, irrespective of whether you go back and delete each post one by one,”
“You have to remember that it doesn’t work in retrospect – what you’ve committed to Facebook you’ve agreed to share and that sharing arrangement is still in place, even after you’ve gone back and deleted certain messages or posts,” he explained.
Think before you join – consider the terms and conditions before signing up.
The end user licence agreements on Facebook outline a very one sided arrangement, where you should expect they’re going to use your data for whatever purpose they please.
“They’re in the business of making money by passing on data to others, to third parties, so you should expect that,” Mr Cook said.
Privacy has always been a concern for social networks, and the emergence of this scandal has reignited those fears.
Mr Cook said there is an argument that there is no privacy in social media and that your privacy is gone the moment you join the social media platform.
“I think many people are starting to see that in very real terms, particularly those who are very active on Facebook – they’re the ones who are going to be used and abused the most,” he said.
Users are warned to be careful what they post and over share.
“The best advice about data on Facebook is that once you’ve committed it into the open source, open space, that data can be accessed again and again irrespective of whether you delete it,”
Normal everyday occurrences will always have a place in all social platforms, but the kind of data that is most valuable is that which makes us be able to influence the opinions of others – such as engaging in political discussions and talking about happenings in your local city.
“They make the most connections and because of that, they’re of greatest value to people who use might use Facebook data to manipulate outcomes for other things,” he stated.
A former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilas, said Facebook did not try hard enough to detect when user data was taken or misused by apps, and also confirmed it was possible to target ads based on users’ political views.
But it’s not all data harvesting and misuse…
Mr Cook explained social platforms have to be fun – It has to be exciting to use and if it’s not getting people to continually add little updates, it will die as a social platform.
Tips for restricting who has access to your data online:
– Monitor apps that require you to log in using your Facebook account, they often have a very wide range of permissions and many are specifically designed to pick up your data.
– Use an ad blocker to limit advertising.
– Check your Facebook security settings to see what is enabled. Individual app settings will show whether you gave permission to view your friends as well as yourself.