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Last week’s bombshell report that Cambridge Analytica harvested data on more than 50 million Facebook users during the 2016 election has reignited privacy concerns and calls for regulation. In the wake of the London Guardian story, many are wondering if the social media behemoth violated other privacy rules and if Mark Zuckerberg is leveraging user data in other ways.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is in charge of supervisory authority regarding cybersecurity and data privacy, has confirmed it is acting. The FTC is investigating whether the company disobeyed a 2011 consent decree. Under the deal, Facebook agreed it would not share its users’ data without their expressed consent.
If the FTC concludes that Facebook broke the terms through the Cambridge Analytica breach, then the tech giant could face billions of dollars in fines. It could also overhaul how Big Tech operates and how it is regulated.
The chief setback? The FTC is without a head. Nobody is running the agency right now, and the current crop of commissioners lack the power to establish policy directives for staff. For a year, the FTC has only been managed with two commissioners.
You can blame Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for this mess. He is currently blocking the confirmation of four commissioners: Democrat Rohit Chopra, Republican chair Joseph Simons, and Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson. These names were approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last month.
Meanwhile, the fifth nominee, Becca Kelly Slaughter, who acts as Schumer’s chief counsel, was only presented in late January, causing delays in background checks and the formal nomination procedure.
For an entity that should be abolished, inaction and the paucity of leadership may be a good thing. Why? Because it gives us the opportunity to look in the mirror, not rely on the state.
Facebook and Big Tech’s Insidious History
We have a love-hate relationship with Big Tech. We love the innovative, convenient, and free services. But we hate having to pay a price for it: giving up our privacy. It is often said that we don’t have a right to discretion in today’s environment, but that is because our passivity enabled its evisceration.
Facebook is a great example of this.
The website has more than two billion users, and they spend an average 18 hours satisfying their digital obsession every month. These individuals have been mocked for sharing every iota of their personal lives for years: how they feel, what they are doing, where they are located, and images of friends and family. It is a treasure trove of content for a complimentary service – and hackers.
Even as the company has faced multiple scandals since its inception, we continue to post the most intimate of details on the website. Why do we do it?
In October 2010, Facebook admitted that its top 10 most popular apps, like Farmville and Texas Hold’em, shared user data (names and friends’ names) with advertisers. In June 2014, the social network announced a new targeting ad scheme: tracking your web and app browsing history, even if you were surfing on a third-party web portal. This is well known but it should be pointed out: once you agree to its terms and conditions, Facebook tracks your “device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.”
There’s a myriad of other ways the social media outlet is watching you and using your data.But it isn’t just Facebook.Some of the biggest names in tech, like Apple and Google, employ their own ghastly measures to harness your data.
The search engine juggernaut, for instance, maintains its own immense data collection infrastructure that is exploited for a wide variety of reasons. Selling data to ad agencies, sharing data for new marketing technologies, and monitoring your moves are just a few to list.
In June 2016, senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi unveiled Apple’s so-called differential privacy. Wired explained the “Apple-speak”:
“Differential privacy, translated from Apple-speak, is the statistical science of trying to learn as much as possible about a group while learning as little as possible about any individual in it. With differential privacy, Apple can collect and store its users’ data in a format that lets it glean useful notions about what people do, say, like and want. But it can’t extract anything about a single, specific one of those people that might represent a privacy violation. And neither, in theory, could hackers or intelligence agencies.”
Regulation is Not the Solution
How did this happen so fast? It’s quite elementary, dear Watson: we allowed it to happen. We voluntarily handed over our private lives to the Cult of Zuckerberg with great alacrity. Like a heroin addict trying to get his next fix, we behave munificently in the Facebook ecosystem just to receive that next shot of dopamine.
With Amazon Alexa and Google Home infiltrating our premises, another apparatus has the real-time spying potential. Remember the 1984-esque smart televisions that could listen to your conversations?
Big Brother doesn’t need to be coercively imposed on us. If it is fun or free, we’ll embrace it!
And now we have the temerity to turn to the government to correct our fatuous mistakes? Whenever the government intervenes, it only amplifies our woes.And with Zuckerberg recently calling for regulations, this typically means he wants regulations that shield him from greater competition – you always need to be concerned of an industry leader demanding government intervention. Plus, the state’s spying endeavors benefit from your regular data-sharing, no matter how benign you may believe it is. So, what would make anyone think the government would really conjure up a solution?
Is there an answer? Yes, but it may be tough medicine to swallow: abandon services that abandon your privacy. These websites only operate the way they do because we enable them. If we took our business elsewhere, or maybe even read the terms and conditions once in a while, then perhaps data violations would dwindle and the Mark Zuckerbergs, the Sundar Pichais, and the Tim Cooks of Silicon Valley would start taking your privacy seriously.There is indeed a price to cost-free platforms, but we shouldn’t be so cavalier and flippant with our valuable personal information.
What is your opinion of the FTC, social media, and privacy? Let us know in the comments section!