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  • Writer's pictureAekansh Dixit

You’re Facebook. You’re Google. They’re not you.

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Internet. Believe it or not, but I just described your entire life with that one word. Actually, not just that, but your parents’, your partner’s, your friends’ and even so your enemies’ lives. Such is today’s condition. Every word we type, every button we click, every place we visit, everything we speak – is being recorded and stored somewhere. Creepy? Not really. Why might you ask? Well. Here’s my answer: Didn’t you know what you were up against when you signed up for the internet?

If you’ve been following the news, you should be aware of the recent controversies Facebook has gotten itself into. People all around the world have finally understood the importance of the Privacy Policy documents that we choose to skip each time we’ve been offered a product or service. Just a while back, nobody ever cared about how Facebook showed you personalized ads or didn’t even bother asking how your favorite shoes on Amazon ended up on a random news website. What changed suddenly? Are you just pissed that the wrong man became the president? Or are you actually concerned about how much of your life is exposed?

Don’t lie to me, here. You buy a new dress, what do you do? Instagram it. Why? To get more likes. I heard you watched Black Panther last week. How do I know that? It’s your status on Facebook. Don’t lie to me, but you secretly love the jealous tone with which I asked you that question. Don’t lie to me, but you write articles to get more money. Don’t lie to me, but you’re on every social media platform because you want to be famous. You want to be known. Then why does that fact haunt you when I tell you that “Facebook knows you.” How is that creepy? Because it’s a company and not an individual? Is that it? For once, being known by a company is safer than being known by a bunch of creeps who wank off your social media fame.

Let’s not pretend to ourselves here. Everyone knows that whatever goes on to the internet, stays there forever. All of us are aware of the mark we leave each time we visit the internet. Be it through the website, an app, or even a gadget. As long as you’re accessing the internet, there is data transfer. This is the basic fact.

Turns out, the Internet is a pretty safe place if you learn how to take precautions. For example, use Google Photos to store your precious memories forever. And if you ever need help, I’ve answered a bunch of questions about the product on Quora

Do we need to be scared of this data transfer? Not really. Think of it as the necessary evil. It’s the cost you pay in exchange for some information. What you do need to be scared of is the fact that this data can be “stolen” and then manipulated in ways you can not imagine. This is where Facebook came under the radar.

Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that uses Data Mining and Data Analytics with Strategic Communication, did just that. It got hold of around 87 million Facebook accounts containing Personally Identifiable Data and is conspired to have tried to manipulate the election in favor of Ted Cruz.

To understand the magnitude of this data breach,  let us understand how a basic Personalised Ads revenue system works.

In the most basic sense, each time you interact with Facebook – like a post, log-in through an app, upload a photo, check-in at your favorite hotel or even just merely clicking on a news article – everything gets recorded under User Activity. This data, when analyzed, helps the company understand that you love pizzas because you keep “loving” the pizza posts uploaded by your friends. It helps the company learn that you are a BJP supporter because you’ve liked the BJP’s official Facebook page and joined a few local politically-oriented groups. It’s not rocket science. In real life, we call this behavioral observation. Since no one from Facebook can actually observe what you do, their only way is to monitor your activity online.

Don’t be scared, none of the data above “personally” identifies you. It is just anonymous characteristics attached to a Facebook ID. The fact that this ID belongs to you is not known by the company. For them, it’s just another account. Now that Facebook has this data, it gets the power of showing exactly what you want to see. Companies such as Adidas, Pizza Hut, Dominos, and others approach Facebook and “buy” their ad-space. What this does is that it allows Facebook to show their ads to a customized audience. All Adidas ads will be targeted to users that have been “liking” photos of shoes, Pizza Hut and Dominos ads will be shown to pizza lovers. Notice how these ads are targeted to specific user IDs and neither Facebook nor the Advertising Company knows who you actually are.

Now, that is something that could be considered safe. But in Cambridge Analytica’s case, the company knew “who you were” because it had access to your “profile data” such as your name, address, etc. And it used this data to target non-politically oriented audiences luring them into supporting a specific political party. They “knew” who you were. This is a breach of privacy, and that is why this whole thing is turning tides around the world and raising concerns about the safety of our internet footprint.

Who’s fault was it, anyway? I’d say that Cambridge Analytica just took advantage of Facebook’s loophole. And because of that, both of them are at fault. Facebook should have blocked access to PID (personally identifiable data) to third-party apps. Facebook should have monitored their “data” more closely and should’ve taken steps to ensure such a leak doesn’t happen again.

Mark Zuckerberg turned a blind eye towards the 2015-2016 articles stating how Facebook is “highly influential” and is “starting to play a major role” in the elections. Now, he’s facing the heated consequences. It was his job to ensure that his users’ data was secured and he failed at it – horribly.

But this is not something new. Google has been showing personalized ads since way back – so is Twitter and other social networking sites. I really don’t understand the outrage of how people are complaining that Facebook is storing your data. Of course, it is, without that – half your experience would be a disaster. You wouldn’t get friend recommendations, you wouldn’t “discover” any new pages, and you certainly won’t be able to save a few bucks because you wouldn’t be aware of the discount offers at your favorite shop. From almost the beginning, Amazon has been showing you the right product suggestions – and these suggestions even pop up on your Instagram feed, or that WordPress blog – all of which is a result of personalized ads.

So, don’t pretend to be shocked when I tell you that every company out there collects your data. And believe me, you’ve been a fool if, until today, you didn’t realize that everything you do on the internet leaves a permanent mark. The outrage should not be against collecting data – because that’s the future. Instead, it should be against how the “Data Collection Policies” and “Privacy Policies” don’t have well defined and strict laws. We should urge for a Government that honors the fact that “online data” is equivalent to a physical ID and should be treated equally. We need more countries to develop laws that help prevent cybercrime and misuse of data.

Don’t #QuitFacebook because it collects your data, instead quit it because it’s a social media platform that wastes your productive time, negatively-influences you to be better than your peers and forces you to “fit in”.

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