Facebook has become a playground for misinformation and data breaches and is no longer safe for the average user.
A few weeks ago, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. data analytics company, stole the personal information of more than 85 million Facebook users. This was done by collecting information through one of the many types of quizzes users see friends and family posting on the daily. The quiz in question was titled “This is Your Digital Life.”
Though it may seem like a drop in the bucket of the social network’s digitally staggering user count of almost 2 billion total accounts, 85 million counts of breached information is nothing to brush off.
Facebook quizzes have a fundamental design that strives for viral appeal. “Your friend took this quiz, click here to find out your results too,” is a phrase that can spread like wildfire. We do not want to be a part of these addictive quizzes, but when we get too close, our involvement is almost inevitable.
Users can’t trust themselves to maintain a safe distance from potentially malicious Facebook programs. It is too easy to think this mark of 85 million won’t eventually include a friend or family member until it happens. Privacy and protection of privacy is one of the most important issues we are faced with today, yet many of us will sit idly as more occurrences of stolen information crop up.
Cambridge Analytica used the quiz app to harvest locations, pictures, friends lists, genders all the way down to the most basic of online interests. “This is Your Digital Life” only managed to reach 270,000 users, but the program works like a virus. Once a user took the quiz, Cambridge would then have access to the user’s entire friend network.
This wide variety of information was then used to essentially create psychographic profiles of each profile scanned.
Christopher Wylie, whistleblower and former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, says the company was founded with a goal to steal information out from under Facebook’s nose. This was not done specifically to appear as a nefarious entity however, as Cambridge Analytica was directly involved with interfering with the general mindset of Facebook members.
"We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” Wylie said. “That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Now, it seems, this data was used in the U.S. presidential election as CNN has reported that the Trump campaign paid Cambridge almost $6 million to gain access to the stolen information. Even if Cambridge’s influences were minor, suddenly, this manipulation has real-world consequences that are potentially already cemented in history.
Furthermore, the data collected may have interfered with 2016’s Brexit vote.
Facebook started to catch on to the “breach” in 2015, dealt with the issue by removing the app from its website and required Cambridge to delete all data taken that violated Facebook policy. After Cambridge was able to confirm the data was no longer accessible, Facebook determined that the situation had been taken care of.
Fast forward three years later and it is clear the certification received was not enough. Cambridge Analytica got away with everything because Facebook’s best efforts to stop the data breach were futile.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg says the social media platform will never be able to fully protect itself from those who will take advantage of their access to information. There will always be efforts to improve security, but if Zuckerberg does not trust the company’s ability to defend it users, then why should the users trust the company in the first place?
Most are fine with Facebook using their information as a tool to drive advertisements and make money, but now third parties are involved so who has what information is less clear.
Facebook asks users if they are willing to trust third party games, apps and quizzes by asking for a confirmation click, but these terms of service-like agreements are not getting the job done. If Facebook cannot stop a massive information leak like this, then why does Facebook deserve our trust?
It is time to treat Facebook and other social media sites as a “Big Brother” type of entity and less like a friendly social media hub. Without consciousness of the information these sites have access to, there is no telling what others will have access to.