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Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Controversy Prompts Investigations, Contemplation


March 27, 2018

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy confirms that personal privacy is at risk in the age of social media and, generally, our more connected society. And that can put other important things – like fair elections – at risk too.

We’ve recently learned that Facebook has been collecting call history and SMS data from Android (News - Alert) devices. In fact, individuals can do a quick check to find evidence that the social media giant has accessed their every phone call and text message, the duration of those calls, and all contacts on their Android phones.

That probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, of course. As TMC (News - Alert) CEO, Rich Tehrani recently noted, when a company offers a service for free, it’s clear that the consumer is the product. And just the practice of setting up a social media profile, “liking” certain things, forging connections on a public platform, and then sharing our views online expose us in many ways.

But, the fact that these businesses have been collecting and using such detailed information as to who we’re calling and texting, when, and for what durations is disturbing nonetheless. (And it’s why the Federal Trade Commission and multiple states are now investigating Facebook (News - Alert) regarding its privacy practices – or the lack of them. Facebook’s stock value has also taken a beating in light of all this.)

For people my age, this controversy may appear as the real-life equivalent to Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – in which citizens are under constant surveillance. For high school and college age people, it may bring to mind The Hunger Games or other fictional dystopian worlds.

But, the fact is that our connected society makes it easier than ever to track what people are doing, reading, looking at, buying, and with whom they’re interacting.

Retargeting has become common practice online. This is the practice by businesses of using cookies to follow your movements on the internet and present ads related to your past history. And many people find it at least a little disturbing.

We’re also increasingly being watched on the street. The Guardian, a few years back, reported that there was one CCTV camera in the U.K. for every 32 people. That may be reassuring in this age of terrorism. On the other hand, these cameras are tracking the rest of us too.

On the other hand, the commotion over the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica situation is a signal that people are starting to pay more attention to personal privacy concerns and its potential impact on other aspects of life. So is the fact that regulators in the European Union have created the General Data Protection Regulation, which aims to standardize data protection regulations across the EU.

And now, some in the U.S. are pushing for something similar to the GDPR. Just last week, U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Data Accountability and Trust Act. If enacted, the DATA Act will require the FTC (News - Alert) to issue regulations requiring companies that own or possess data containing personal information to establish security policies and procedures in handling and securing such data.

“If my bill were law today, Facebook users would have learned far earlier that their data was being improperly used and weaponized.  Instead of misrepresenting their intent, Cambridge Analytica would have had to get authorization to use and sell this sort of data and both them and Facebook — who has yet to officially notify its users — would be financially liable for their irresponsible and deceptive behavior,” said Rush.




Edited by Mandi Nowitz

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