about 2 years ago
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By Ruma Dubey

There is a major storm brewing at Facebook. The stock price yesterday plummeted 7% and the muck is only getting messier and dirtier.

World over this is the one big news doing the rounds – data breach at Facebook.

We Indians too have become addicts to this social media site – everything right from the time one wakes up, has breakfast, lunch, work, friends and all day-to-day inane things of life are put up for the alleged “friends” to see; but apparently, the whole world and those who want to mine this data for serving their purpose are using this information of your life. Isn’t that reason enough to be worried?

Seriously, the question which is being asked by one and all currently is what really happens to the data posted on Facebook? Who takes responsibility for protecting this data? And should we be using Facebook at all?

Well, let’s first understand the debacle. Facebook is under fire because Cambridge Analytica (CA) – a controversial data analytics and election strategy firm has used data of some 50 million Facebook users; they used this data to influence how Americans voted in the 2016 Presidential campaign, based on the accessed Facebook profiles.

How did this happen? Facebook was running an app which could be downloaded by users "thisisyourdigitallife." This app offered a personality test. A whistle blower working at CA said that some 2,70,000 took the personality test and data of 50 million users was harvested without their consent; the professor sold this data to CA who used it to gather pro-Trump information and psychologically profile users and see how they could be influenced to vote for Trump.

This is a huge blow to Facebook because what we know now is that it did nothing or rather has no rules which keep tabs on third parties using the data. The main source of revenue for Facebook is selling user data to app developers and advertisers. And that very same source of revenue is now under fire. It allowed its users to be manipulated by Trump’s election campaigners, without the consent of the users. That’s simply not done!

Even in India, CA was used. On its website, the company says on India, “It undertook an in-depth electorate analysis for the Bihar Assembly Election in 2010. The core challenge was to identify the floating/swing voters for each of the parties and to measure their levels electoral apathy, a result of the poor and unchanging condition of the state after 15 years of incumbent rule” This was done at the behest of its client, Janata Dal United. Using the voter research and psychological profiling, JDU achieved a landslide victory.

Thus none of us are “free” any more. We might have withdrawn from physically meeting up with people and socializing, preferring to guard our privacy zealously and mingling with virtual friends, with our heads always down into the smart phone, busy updating and “liking.” But the sad truth is that we have never been so exposed, with no privacy. Parents might not know what goes on in your life but complete strangers are manipulating the way you lead your life. The moment you leave any digital imprint, its permanent and there for all to see.

Yes, quitting Facebook is a good idea but that’s not all.

Best is do not log into any app which requires you to log in using your Facebook account , double check your Facebook security settings. And yes, you can download a copy of the data Facebook holds on you – click on the download button at the bottom of the General Account Settings tab.

Being “smart” and digital has its own perils; best to use your wisdom and do away with this need to seek validity from so-called friends on your social network for everything that you do or do not do. Yeah, get a life, a real life beyond apps and social networks!

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