Ever since I learned that Facebook quizzes are basically a ploy to sell marketing companies your data, I’ve avoided them like the plague.
However, I’ve come across the nihilistic view that data companies are going to get your data anyway, so you might as well have some fun finding out which Game of Thrones character you’re most like.
While this may seem cynical, the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal has revealed a much more troubling realisation. Even if you’re not the one trying to find out whether you’re a Daenerys Targaryen, your data can be compromised by Facebook friends who aren’t as protective of their accounts.
To put it into perspective, only 33 South Africans took the Cambridge Analytica personality quiz that the company used to mine people’s data. But the personal data almost 60 000 South Africans was mined by the company.
Globally, 270 000 people were paid to take the personality test – and the account access granted by these people compromised the user data of around 87 million people.
And while you might think you don’t have much data on Facebook that can be mined, personal data file downloads have proved others. After the company gave users the ability to download a file including all the information that Facebook has and shares about you, people found some hair-raising stuff.
Some of this comes from the fact that when we agree to use Facebook-owned apps, we aren’t that vigilant about reading the terms and conditions.
Then there’s the fact that Facebook managed to lock some of its functionality behind certain apps. For example, to send messages on Facebook from your phone, you need to download the Messenger app. As a result, Facebook has access to all of the contacts saved on your phone. This includes phone numbers, email addresses and sometimes even physical addresses.
Some users found out that copies of their messages and phone call logs were even kept by Facebook.
And that’s what’s really troubling. Few of us realise just how much data Facebook keeps on it to users.
While some of us go to great lengths to not share certain data, Facebook has been able to find it anyway through other people’s accounts. So you may have never shared your physical address with Facebook, but a company like Cambridge Analytica could have come across that information via one of your friend’s phone contact lists.
Facebook has promised to increase its protection of user data. But then again, when Mark Zuckerberg founded the company, he said user data was never going to be sold at all.
We can’t keep blindly assuming that companies with such little oversight on what they do with our information will simply keep our best interests at heart. Increasingly, data breaches are showing just how much the selling of our information to marketing companies as putting our personal data risk.
Even South Africa’s largest data breach, which exposed millions of ID numbers and personal details, was a result of a database that was kept to sell a company’s clients consumer information.
So what needs to change?
The answer is us. We can’t only treat data privacy as a personal preference anymore, Because as Cambridge Analytica has shown, the actions of a few people can expose the data of millions.
We need to be much more wary of who and what we allow to access our accounts. Because it’s not about ourselves anymore, it’s about the people we connect with.
It’s not about getting annoying ad based on your marital status or age group, it’s about being fed false information to manipulate our world views.
If I wasn’t dependent on Facebook for keeping in touch with many of my old friends and for managing Facebook pages for clients, I would have just deleted my account. But that’s the thing with major social media networks – they have become so ingrained in our everyday lives and even in our careers, that is not just a simple case of switching off anymore.
Rather, we need to be more vigilant about what we share, keeping in mind that we could be risking the data of others. But we also need to push lawmakers and our governments to protect our right to privacy through legislation and oversight.
Don’t be complacent.