It was exactly a month ago the ‘mega breach of trust’ by Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica came to light. After initial digging, it was discovered that the roots of the breach dated back to 2014 when the firm allegedly starting using Facebook users’ data to build political tool. Some more investigations revealed the number of users (around 87 million) potentially impacted by the breach. What followed was public outrage, the uncomfortable round of questions by the US government, extended debates on how social media has a bad influence on the society, and so on. However, what stood out from the battle between the society and the social media was the #DeleteFacebook movement.
What started off as yet another anti-social media hashtag, soon started witnessing support from key figures of the public, including some from the tech world as well. When the data violation came to light, which was after Facebook had already dismissed the access to data by the firm and suspended its accounts from the platform, the end users barely knew the impact and scale of it. However, it was when tech biggies the likes of WhatsApp (Facebook-owned service) co-founder Brian Acton and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk started deleting their accounts and pages, that the gravity of the situation was realized by the masses. So much so, that even the Indian government called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify over the breach. A month into the ‘major data scandal’, what happened to the movement to boycott the world’s biggest social networking service? How many of you, the readers, have actually deleted your account?
Quick to blame
The internet is a boon for those who use it judiciously and a bane for those who are bent on misusing it. The Facebook controversy involves the so-called ‘private information’ which users have willfully shared on the platform for the hunger of likes and reactions. It is difficult to quantify the vast amount of data which is shared every minute across tons of websites and services which are linked someway or the other to your Facebook account.
For understanding, consider it as Aadhaar for your virtual life. To avoid typing in your email address and set a new password, you opt for the quicker and also convenient ‘Sign up with Facebook or Google+’. In the past, we have seen instances where Aadhaar databases were reportedly compromised upon. The government had to repeatedly assure us that the systems are secure and the user data is safe – this data has far bigger implications if compromised than what we end up sharing on a daily basis on Facebook and similar services.
When it first came to Facebook’s knowledge that Cambridge Analytica lied about deleting the wrongfully accessed data, it took the necessary steps to correct itself. Yet, there had been no stopping the accusations. Facebook’s policies clearly state how the company uses your data and how it never sells the data to anyone. Owing to the controversy, Facebook introduced a few changes to its policies by making it clear how your data is being used and also simplyfying the terms for you to read before you sign up for any service through the platform. Even after the recent measures, Facebook users are less likely to actually sit and read through the terms, because ‘who cares’. Then why the hypocrisy? Why blame the website of mishandling the data?
It is you, them too
Given the internet-obsessed lives we all lead, distinguishing between private and personal has become challenging. Humans have always been attention hungry, the internet and social media only aggravated the natural flaw. By the very nature of the new-age netizens, social networking sites such as Facebook and its related products such as Instagram and WhatsApp have become a dump yard for everything that falls between the waking and sleeping hours.
The anxiety after such scandals hit big names arises only when you have put far too much data out there than you can possibly remember. For these companies, the purpose is simple – harness your data for driving their business or to make the experience tailored for you, because ‘you’ asked for it. Take, for instance, when you sign up for a dating app, you set in ‘your preferences’ in terms of age, location, gender, and so on. This is the data which is required for the dating service to provide you with the best results. Not seeking that data would make the whole point of finding you the right match futile. In the case of Facebook, it is more than just a social networking service. People use the platform for their daily business, work conversations, and also follow the original aim of ‘connecting’ with far-residing family or friends. If a Facebook user does not provide a name or profile picture and related information for communication, it will make the experience on the social networking service meaningless.
My point here is not to ignore the potential harm our personal data faces in light of the controversies involving some of the biggest names in the industry but to underline how data is the foundation to hundreds of businesses out there. In the latest development to the Facebook controversy, Facebook pointed a finger at other companies for harnessing your data. “Other companies suck in your data too,” the company said. These includes Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google. The latter for instance, has a popular analytics service, while for a company like Amazon, it is imperative to ‘recommend’ you products based on your browsing history on the shopping portal. The difference is how the data is being used.
What’s the brouhaha then?
#DeleteFacebook reportedly received far too less ‘mentions’ on social media than how it was portrayed as a tool to take down the billion users’ strong community. According to Raj Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, “It’s not possible for me to say how many people actually did delete their Facebook account, but [#DeleteFacebook] got 62,000 mentions at its peak,” he told Trusted Reviews. “That sounds like a lot, but actually it wasn’t a huge amount. If each account is worth $6, which is what the average revenue per user is, that’s a loss of $360,000. That’s not a lot.” In the US, the average revenue per user is estimated to be just under $27 per account, which would add up to less than $1.7 million. “Either way, it’s not a lot.”
Facebook reportedly lost about $50 billion of its market cap. At the time of writing, the stock value is showing an uptick at $164.83 per share. During the first weeks of the controversy, this value dropped to the lowest of $152 per share. But clearly, there has been no significant damage to the share value or reputation. As of February 2018, Facebook was the most popular mobile social networking apps with 164.5 million unique visitors.
Critics of the service chose to part ways, some users took the plunge owing to the increased dependence, some like me did nothing owing to the indifference. If there had been no significant drop in Facebook users and Zuckerberg’s blue suit and deadpan expressions during the Congressional hearing made more news than the actual controversy, #DeleteFacebook too came and went like nobody cared. The seeimgly ambitious movement to take down the biggest tech firm in the world fell short of attaining the magnitude as Facebook. Yes, celebrities who joined the network to connect with their obsessed fans also decided to part ways owing to the controversy, but not all fans followed suite and not all were concerned about the controversy in the first place.
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It’s business as usual
Call it ignorance or lack of awareness about privacy in the modern age, but life’s pretty much the usual for a major portion of those who are on social media services, not limited to Facebook. I, for one, have not come across a single post on my timeline (yes, I am compelled to keep my Facebook up and running), which would have expressed the desire to excuse themselves from the service. There are chances you too would have come across this article through your social media feed.
Not to say that it is not easy to boycott Facebook, or for that matter any service which we feel is colonizing our lives, but often in the run to walk with the crowd, we forget the idea behind the protest and whether it impacts the daily lives. We ourselves have weaved the social-driven world around us and now we are looking at complaining about why someone else, here Facebook, did not take care of the data. Let’s accept, it is business as usual, for us, for Facebook. What changes is the language, to tell you that your data is still being used, and will continue to be used if you want to have an ‘enhanced experience’ on the web.
Meanwhile, Facebook is reportedly looking at introducing its payments service as part of the Digital India initiative of the Government. Privacy concerns, anyone?