The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has resulted in a global uproar, with Facebook users furiously deleting their accounts en masse in a collective ‘up yours’ to the platform’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
In case you haven’t yet cottoned onto the privacy crisis that sent the social media juggernaut into a tailspin, the short version is that data mining company Cambridge Analytica used a loophole to get a hold of data from tens of millions of Facebook users. It then used that data to try to influence election results – including that of Donald Trump in 2016.
The kicker is that the data it accumulated wasn’t limited to users who had opted in for the personality quiz developed by Cambridge Analytica’s partner; it also extended to data from the users’ friends. In other words, even people who hadn’t agreed to share their personal information with the app ended up having their data compromised. The outrage is understandable. Healthy, even. Of course we should get up in arms whenever our right to privacy – or any other right – is compromised.
But is deleting your Facebook account really the answer? From my perspective, it’s a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Or, to use another overused idiom, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The fact is, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the best thing that could have happened to Facebook users. The social media platform is now under the forensic microscope of the media and government bodies around the world, and you can bet your bottom dollar that any other dodgy dealings that Facebook is a party to will be ferreted out quickly.
It’s not unlike what happened with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The scandal continues to dominate headlines six months after the sexual misconduct allegations against him first surfaced, bringing to light the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment – not just in Hollywood, but for workplaces in general.
With Facebook now under serious scrutiny, this kind of zero tolerance attitude will be replicated by Mark Zuckerberg and his team as they rapidly try to restore goodwill to the brand. Zuckerberg has already issued an apology of sorts, admitting that Facebook had a responsibility to protect its users’ data, and that it would be taking a number of steps to ensure that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen again in the future. This included doing a full audit of any app demonstrating suspicious activity, and banning any developers that have misused personally identifiable information.
What this ultimately means for end users is that the days of third party developers having a free-for-all with our data are over. While there has always been a tacit agreement that Facebook could use the data we fed into its platform to market products and services back to us, the extent that third parties had access to this data was never fully understood. Not really. But that ambiguity, thanks to Cambridge Analytica, is going be rectified as a point of priority.
As of this week, all 2.2 billion users on the social media platform will start receiving a notice in their feed called ‘Protecting your information’, with a link that shows all of the apps that are currently linked to their Facebook account, along with the personal information that is currently being shared with those apps. From there, revoking apps individually – or turning off third party access to apps completely – will be relatively straightforward.
As tempting as it may be to get swept up in the moral outrage that’s currently fuelling the #deletefacebook campaign, the reality is that there will always be risks when it comes to sharing your data with a third party. That includes banks, utility providers, and government departments. If you were to part ways with every service provider that experienced a data breach or mishandled personal information, you’d probably run out of businesses you could deal with before long. Instead of succumbing to the #deletefacebook knee-jerk reaction that’s currently on trend, it’s better to make a value judgment on whether the risks with sharing your personal information are worth the reward.
For Facebook, this reward is getting access to what has become an interactive microcosm of the entire internet, with content posted and curated by your friendship network, along with brands, news providers and influencers you follow, as well as a recommendations engine of products and services that have been tailored to your likes and dislikes. It’s the world’s biggest community noticeboard, the leading instant messenger, the biggest repository of photos and a never-ending stream of funny memes and feel-good cat and dog videos.
This is a hard thing to walk away from, as we love to hate the hold that Facebook has on our lives. If you’re going to delete your Facebook account due to perceived privacy risks, then you may as well go whole hog and delete all of your online accounts and move to a self-sustaining hippy commune while wearing a tinfoil hat at all times – and even then, your personal data could still fall into the wrong hands.
By all means, let’s hold businesses accountable whenever they do wrong. But let’s also be practical and continue to keep our own best interests at heart. For me at least, that means keeping my Facebook account intact.
Michael Jankie is CEO of PoweredLocal.
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