Facebook Hack Raises New Privacy Concerns
NEW ORLEANS, LA — The safety of the personal information we share online comes under question yet again in the aftermath of a cyberattack which targeted the profiles of fifty million Facebook users.
In this instance, hackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s ‘view as’ feature, which allows users to view their profiles as another account would. Through manipulation of this feature, hackers were able to access profiles, and potentially, information from the apps that users signed onto using their Facebook login. To date, Facebook has not stated that they know the identity of the hackers, or what the purpose of the attack might have been.
This is only the most recent Facebook scandal. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, the firm Cambridge Analytica legally acquired data from up to 87 million Facebook users, in order to analyze their personal and political preferences.
By developing an app known as ‘This is Your Digital Life’, agents of Cambridge Analytica accessed data when users downloaded the app in order to participate in quizzes and other time-passers, thereby linking the app to their account. However, users were never informed that their data would be taken and analyzed for political purposes.
At its most basic level, social media sites like Facebook create a clearinghouse for our valuable personal data, which is then “mined and measured, sorted and sold.”
We willingly share this information, because we enjoy networking with others, and because of the convenience in-app purchases. But whether this data is then stolen, or simply sold to marketing firms or behavioral researchers, has Facebook done enough to make users aware of how extensively personal data shared to Facebook is harvested, sold, analyzed, and even potentially stolen by, a wide variety of third parties?
In 2011 Facebook entered into a consent decree with the FTC, which had specifically accused Facebook of deceiving users with regards to the privacy of their data. However, two of the federal officials who helped craft the consent decree now feel that Facebook might have violated it, due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. So far, the FTC has made no comment regarding any violation, but the potential for another investigation cannot be ruled out.
Indeed, it seems only a matter of time before another privacy-related scandal occurs. The entire business model of Facebook, whose ‘free service’ ran up an operating cost of $3.28 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016, is to gather personal data from individuals around the world, then sell that data to interested parties. And while Facebook and other social media sites don’t do much to alert the user to this fact, they do design their program in such a way that sharing personal information, whether it be lifestyle choices or political leanings, is rewarding, and studies say, even addictive. There is a clear incentive for any company to encourage users to share as much data as possible; it’s just as easy to see that if users were warned before sharing that their data would be sold, analyzed, and exploited, and that the act of sharing itself was potentially addictive, then social media giants like Facebook might find themselves with a rapidly shrinking number of profitable users.
The law has yet to fully consider all of the complex issues potentially involved social media platforms. In the meanwhile, users of social media should fully consider just how large their audience actually is, before they share or like that post.
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