If you’ve been off the grid and missed the news, a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” collected more than 50 million Facebook profiles and then turned the data over to an analytics company, Cambridge Analytica. All of this was done without consumers’ knowledge, despite Facebook claiming the users who had their data collected allowed it in their privacy settings.
Because of this, several companies joined the latest internet campaign to #DeleteFacebook, including Playboy, SpaceX, and Tesla. In our own AnchorFree survey, 61% of Hotspot Shield users polled said that they will now limit their use of Facebook following the data breach, and 67% said they will further limit the personal information they share across all social media channels.
As shocking as it is to realize what Facebook and others know about us, the tech giant, however, is right—when we signed up to use its service, we did grant it permission to gather our personal data. The issue, here, is that we did this blindly, without proper warning.
Facebook uses our data, mostly, to sell ads. The more it knows about you—what you like, where you’ve been, etc.—the more it can target you with specific ads based on products it thinks you will want to buy. Companies will pay big bucks for this insight.
In truth, the recent news about Facebook and the data it has on us is nothing when compared to the information your credit card or phone company has. The difference, however, is that these industries are highly regulated, so they can’t use that data in the same way internet companies can.
And therein lies the problem.
The good news I mentioned is that, through all the mess, people are getting smarter about what data they allow Facebook and other apps to gather. This news makes us more conscious about our online privacy, and perhaps it’ll act as a catalyst to spur people into making their digital privacy a priority. The big tech firms, too, will likely step up amidst the backlash; most people have no idea what they are allowing when downloading an app or signing up for a service, and the companies themselves should bear more responsibility to educate the user.
Tech firms must start being responsible for their messaging. Right now, for instance, they might say they are collecting data to provide a “better user experience.” While to a degree that might be the case, they are primarily using your data to make money—and let’s be honest, as Facebook has proven, if you have billions of users around the world, there’s an awful lot of money to be made.
What we really need is better regulation, much like those aforementioned industries where big data is collected but the rules are far stricter into how that data can be used. Facebook is facing heat right now, and people are rightfully demanding change. And we’re already seeing it; the UK government, for instance, is planning on forcing companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet (which runs Google) to simplify how they explain their data management policies. This could make using these sites and apps considerably safer for consumers.
Of course, all of this could have been prevented if Facebook wasn’t so secretive about its data policy. Other companies, such as Apple, are far more transparent. And transparency is all we’re ultimately after, allowing us the opportunity to better understand how our data is being used and opt out of things we’re uncomfortable with.
Once the dust finally settles, we’ll be left with a world where we’re better equipped to protect our online privacy. After all, sometimes it takes a scandal to bring about much needed change.