FEATURED IMAGE | Source: Shop Catalog, Cambridge Analytica & Facebook, CC By 2.0
Last week, Facebook took another blow when the world began paying attention to news that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica covertly took millions of Facebook users’ data. The public began to look for someone to blame and Facebook has been receiving the most heat.
The simplified story is this: Cambridge Analytica and its related company, SCL, accessed and retained data on 50 million Facebook users with the help of an outside researcher, Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan had authorized access to the data but was not permitted to share the information. Facebook found out about the breach and asked Cambridge to delete the improperly retrieved data. Facebook did not alert its users about the privacy violation. Whether or not Cambridge deleted the user information is still being determined.
Because Facebook is the most public and influential figure in this story, it’s been receiving the most media scrutiny, and perhaps unfairly overshadowing the other players. Cambridge Analytica seems to play a supporting role to Facebook, even with its alleged involvement in international elections and privatized colonizing operations. Then there are the players who are overlooked most of all: us, the users. The ones who provided the data to Facebook.
Back during his Harvard days, when Facebook was in its infancy, Mark Zuckerberg told a friend that he could use the platform to find out anything on anyone. “I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS. People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.”
As unpleasant as it sounds, maybe Zuckerberg was right. Maybe we are “dumb fucks.” Why do we easily give up our personal information for the sake of consumerism? What allows us to give up our numbers, photos, and names of friends through our devices, but makes us hesitate to do the same with a random stranger on the street? Do we care about our privacy? In recent days, Blind users have been sharing thoughts on the latter question.
This recent privacy scandal has re-ignited a discussion about what companies should do to keep user information safe and how companies should be kept accountable. Government regulations are being discussed too. But perhaps we should also talk about how to become mindful as consumers and become aware of the impact our information can have. Past research has shown that most people are apathetic when it comes to privacy settings. This is an attitude that won’t serve us well in the long run as we rely more and more on technology, and as online communities continue to grow. One ordinary individual’s Facebook posts and likes may not be significant, but when that same information is compiled from millions of users, that data can be powerful and also dangerous when abused.
We, the users, are part of the problem in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, and in the issue of privacy at large. We may even be the biggest problem. On the positive side though, we are also the ones who can initiate the most change. Too often we forget that the consumers are more powerful than any company. We are the ones who keep businesses alive, whether it’s with our money or our data. For what we give, we can have a lot of influence on how businesses are run and regulated, especially when our voices and actions become a collective.
Instead of waiting to see how Facebook or the government will handle this current situation, maybe we as consumers and citizens should take the lead and let them know what we want done. We can also use this opportunity to become better consumers going forward.