Facebook: A Larger Issue of Online Privacy

Marwa Chohan

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Facebook is the world’s most widely used social media network, boasting a grand total of nearly two billion users. Recently, however, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been subject to intense scrutiny after a data breach involving approximately 87 million Facebook users. Controversy over Facebook’s data-sharing began in 2016 when Cambridge Analytica was hired by President Donald Trump’s then presidential campaign. Cambridge Analytica, founded in 2013, focused on collecting political data for the purpose of electoral benefit, their highest-profile employer being the Trump campaign. In 2016, Steve Bannon, both the former White House Chief Strategist and the Vice President of Cambridge Analytica, introduced the firm to the Trump campaign. From there, the political consulting firm was hired by the campaign and began to collect data from various Facebook profiles to aid in the social management of the campaign—that is, to determine how to acquire a larger following and more votes for Trump.  However, the question of how Cambridge Analytica was able to gain so much information from so many profiles remains. In order to devise a method to collect the needed information, Cambridge Analytica researcher Aleksandr Koganbuilt the quiz app entitled “This Is My Digital Life,” which was used by about 270,000 Facebook users to collect data on not only the quiz-taker but also their Facebook friends as well. Using this information therefore violates Facebook’s rules, as the friends did not consent to have their information disclosed. Despite this, the information was compiled by Cambridge Analytica and then sold to the Trump campaign. Now, Facebook claims that while it is lawful to collect data from its network, selling that data to a third party is in fact illegal.

Because of these infringements, both Facebook and Zuckerberg have experienced intense scrutiny.  In April, Zuckerberg was required to testify in a congressional hearing to determine whether or not stricter regulations should be imposed upon the billion- dollar network. Even with Zuckerberg’s recent congressional hearing, the questions still stand: is Facebook to be blamed for the data break of 87 million users of its users, and should social media sites be subject to stricter regulations? It is certainly reasonable to conclude that Facebook is responsible for the data breach, as it was a loophole in their system that allowed Cambridge Analytica’s app quiz to gain access to the personal information of Facebook users who may not have used the app. Zuckerberg, however, seeks to avoid federal control over Facebook by instead imposing internal regulations.

In the wake of the scandal, with federal scrutiny as well as the loss of multiple celebrity users, Facebook has taken action to secure their systems in order to prevent another such occurrence. Therefore, due to these immediate actions, it is not imminently necessary to impose stricter regulations on Zuckerberg. Rather, it is important to note that many of the concerns are ethical—not legal–and therefore not subject to as harsh federal intervention. Zuckerberg himself admitted to the issue of a breach of trust amongst Facebook users and vowed to develop security runs to protect user data.

Despite all their effort, however, digital networks are bound to have loopholes. While a company may take measures to prevent the likelihood of a breach of trust, it is not entirely possible to eradicate all possible breaks in its system. Users on Facebook control how much personal information they choose to share and are not required to share all of their personal identification in order to register. That is not to say that the companies involved, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, are not to be blamed; rather, users should be wary of how much information they give out about themselves and know of the ways in which it could be used. Users must still take into account that what they post is for public viewing and can be used to the purpose of the collection of data, or more.