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HomeArticlesNew MediaCambridge Analytica’s Loot of Facebook Users’ Data Who will protect users’ privacy ?
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 06:28

Cambridge Analytica’s Loot of Facebook Users’ Data Who will protect users’ privacy ?

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March 2018 has been the month of leakages and theft. While the Aadhaar data sale in black markets was still under scanner, the Indian politics was caught red-faced with the BBC’s Channel 4 News disclosure of Facebook data theft by a British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica (CA). It was accused of using data for helping various political parties and candidates to influence voters to win elections (the biggest example was Donald Trump); the data were harvested from 50 million Facebook profiles.   

The sting operation was carried out by UK’s Channel 4 News which showed senior executives at Cambridge Analytica (CA) suggesting that entrapment techniques such as ‘Fake news, bribes and sex workers’ could be used to help a politician gain/favor against a rival. Post the exposure Alexander Nix, CEO of the CA had to resign.

Media reports published by the U.K. newspaper The Observer and The New York Times stated how 50 million Facebook profiles were mined for data by an app called "this is your digital life". The data was then transferred to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook broke partnership with the app in 2015 because it said that it violated the terms of service by passing on the data to Cambridge Analytica.

The sting operation shook Indian users. The long simmering fear of losing personal information on social networking sites became psychopathic in nature. While BJP and Congress started accusing each other of using the services of the notorious firm Cambridge Analytica to impress voters for securing a win during elections, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned by the UK lawmakers to give evidence on Cambridge Analytica scandal and how Facebook is related to the exposed agency.

Zuckerberg was asked to give an account "of this catastrophic failure of process". The FB founder accepted that some loopholes existed in the system, especially the third party apps developers, and ensured his company will make rules stringent for them and will not allow apps to collect personal information of the users. 


Indian Govt’s stern warning: 

Soon, Indian Government too sought explanation from Facebook founder about the data leak and asked him to reply by April 7. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has written a letter to Facebook seeking information over the issue of data leak from the platform of the social media giant.

Earlier, the IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had warned social media companies, such as Facebook of "stringent action", if any attempt was made by them to interfere in the country's electoral process. He then said: "We fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated."

Not only India, world-over the governments are tense that despite Cambridge Analytica's claim that it has deleted data of over 50 million Facebook users, the facts might be otherwise.


Global election manipulations: 

The notorious agency is itself not responsible for stealing the data; those who sought the information to influence voters are equally responsible. Election manipulation has been done worldwide, not in India alone. Cambridge Analytica used data to change behaviour including that of voters to bring Donald Trump to power, and the BJP is accusing Rahul Gandhi to have a secret deal with the firm to replicate the Trump model in upcoming general elections next year. 

In Nigeria, it is alleged that the Cambridge Analytica had used underhand tactics to try and secure the re-election of then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Allegations are also leveled that Cambridge Analytica had helped President Uhuru Kenyatta to retain power in 2017 by designing divisive campaigns that demonised opposition candidate Raila Odinga, bringing the country closer to civil conflict.


No legal protection: 

India’s current laws do not ensure data protection and privacy as they are inadequate for the rapidly-evolving sectors. The third party transfers and cross border movement of personal data, or the entire sharing ecosystem is not adequately dealt with under the Indian IT Act.

Jaspreet Singh, partner, Cyber Security, Ernst & Young says: “India has the second highest number of internet users globally. However India's Information Technology Act, 2000 and its amendments -- 2008 and 2011 -- are not well suited to deal with social media and internet related cyber-crimes."


Psychological Profile harvesting for advertising: 

Winning elections is not the only thing which attracted agencies like CA to mine the Facebook data. CA’s original idea was to use the collected data to target political ads at people based on their psychometric profiles. Advertising that was tailored to a person’s level of extraversion or openness was far more effective at getting them to click on an ad and ultimately buy something. The psychometric personality profile was built up by asking the users to complete an assessment questionnaire and also to allow an application to look at the user’s Facebook posts and likes. The collected data are then sold to advertisers to target their customers and influence them. 


Slug fest by political parties:  

In India, Praveen Chakravarty, the newly appointed head of the data-analytics department of the Congress, refuted all claims that Congress engaged with the Cambridge Analytica. He said that his party had only held some discussions with the firm, much like it had with several other international companies. However, a video screen grab of Cambridge Analytica’s suspended Chief Executive Officer Alexander Nix’s London office shows a poster with Congress’ hand symbol. The image, which surfaced on social media, clearly shows Congress’ hand symbol with the party slogan — ‘Development for all’. 

The Janata Dal (United) was also accused to use the services of Cambridge Analytica during the 2010 Bihar elections; the firm had brought up some caste surveys, which were carried out in Uttar Pradesh by SCL India the parent company of CA. SCL India boasted a database of over 600 districts and 7 lakh villages, which is constantly being updated.

Cambridge Analytica executives had also been caught boasting that their firm had worked in more than 200 elections around the world, including India, Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic and Argentina. So the larger question is who will stop all this.

Four years back, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, which made WhatsApp’s co-founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — very wealthy persons. While Koum continues to lead the company, Acton had quit. Post the exposure, Acton asked all Facebook users to delete their Facebook accounts.


FB Founder’s Assurance: 

Though Zuckerberg promised to investigate whether or not other developers may have also abused Facebook‘s data policies, and also announced some big updates to its current policy around sharing data with third-party apps, only time will tell the effectiveness of his proposed tools.

Now, Facebook has said that it will stop sharing data with developers once a user has gone more than three months without opening their app, and it will also drastically limit what those developers can collect in the first place. Third-party app developers can now only collect your name, profile photo and email address.

Zuckerberg said: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community.”


Who will protect the data?

The recent leak of CBSE papers, SSC papers, Facebook data and the ongoing Aadhaar privacy battle have made the users paranoid. They don’t care about political parties fighting each other as all are culprits, and want to win elections by using all methods. What they care is the safety and security of their personal information on digital platforms. 

As data is the new oil, it must be protected. Any company or party can mine the data for their nefarious gains. Users have the right to ask social networking sites what measures they are taking to safeguard their data. 

The Election Commission should also take cognizance of the latest developments and must take pre-emptive measures to stop the political parties and candidates from influencing voters with the help of stolen/leaked data by such agencies and their Indian lackeys.

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