The Wildcat Tribune

Facebook collects and exposes consumer data without consent

Arshia Mehta and Anouki Panthagani

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In today’s technology-based age, someone sitting behind a computer on the other side of the world may know more about you than your neighbor.

Privacy violations surrounding social media users can easily be traced back to one main culprit — the social media platforms themselves. And in fact, a recent breach of security has proven just that.

Recently, Cambridge Analytica, a data firm owned by right-wing donor Robert Mercer, with former Trump aide Stephen Bannon, have used data from millions of Facebook users to unlawfully build voter profiles. On April 4th, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, released a more accurate estimate for the amount of users affected by this breach: 87 million people, most of whom reside in the United States. Since the news broke, Facebook — and Mark Zuckerberg — have been under fire.

Several news sources have been debating as to whether or not this breach occurred as a result of an actual bug in the system, or political bias within the analytics firm.

The Atlantic was quick to point out that “Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher who built a quiz to collect data on tens of millions of people, didn’t break into Facebook’s servers and steal data. He used the Facebook Graph API, which until April 2015 allowed people to build apps that harvested data both from people who chose to use the app, and from their Facebook friends.”

However, Zuckerberg hasn’t issued an apology explicitly claiming responsibility for this apparent bug. Numerous Americans believe he is trying to avoid the issue at hand, while apologizing for matters not in his control.

Zuckerberg has even had to testify in front of Congress, answering questions from several senators. One of the most memorable queries came from Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Sen. Durbin grilled Zuckerberg regarding why he won’t reveal the hotel he stayed at, or the last few people he messaged, when he was posed this question during the testimony. He then related Zuckerberg’s apprehension to what Americans are facing every single day.

“I watched the testimony Mark Zuckerberg took part in,” sophomore Garima Sharma comments. Garima is an avid Facebook user, both for recreational and academic purposes (as many Dougherty clubs are connected through Facebook groups.)

“While I did appreciate how apologetic he was acting, I feel like something more needs to be done. Something that ensures this chaos never happens again.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened, either. In fact, data unveiled by the New York Times talks about how the 2016 Brexit campaign also used a Cambridge Analytica contractor to gain access to voter profiles and “skirt spending limits.” Essentially, this violation has been going on for years.

Users have been becoming increasingly uneasy regarding this lack of basic privacy boundaries. At DV, where most clubs and group events are coordinated through Facebook, and soome students are incredibly avid Facebook users, teens were particularly shocked.

“I think that there are prominent privacy concerns in place,” says David Jung, junior at Dougherty Valley High School, and president of EESY, a technology club at Dougherty. As president, he finds utilizes Facebook’s platform to communicate with club members very often.
“We’ve always known that corporations use consumer information to target specific spending patterns. However, it’s worrying that in this day and age, surveillance capitalism is being used to fuel political research for candidates we may not even support.”

But unfortunately, this isn’t just a burden on Facebook’s shoulders, nor is this the first time it’s occurred.

“Like Facebook, Google develops profiles of its users, with information from people’s private searches and tools like Gmail and office applications, to help advertisers target messages to them,” said Ethan Zuckerman in the Atlantic.

Here’s an interesting analogy: if you were reading this article online, roughly three dozen ad trackers might be watching you, adding your interest in this story to profiles they maintain on your online behavior.

It’s important to consider digital footprints whenever active online. Though it may be extremely unethical, someone is usually tracking Internet users’ every move, for their own benefit or the benefit of an advertiser.

Imagine two neighbors discussing each other’s birthdays andw what kinds of videos they like to watch on YouTube. Doesn’t sound very abnormal — but what if they told each other, in painstaking detail, the past two years of their browsing history? They would still know less about each other than some bot halfway across the world.

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Facebook collects and exposes consumer data without consent