The massive data breach at Facebook not only opens a can of worms on the misuse of social media platforms for influencing a nation’s political destiny but also sends out an ominous warning on the perils lurking in the digital world. The outrage since the breach came to light is justified given that millions of consumers have put their blind trust on Facebook, giving the platform access to their personal information including photographs, location and even their thoughts. For millions of Indians, the discovery of internet itself happens through Facebook. That people are hooked on to Facebook is proven by the fact that there are over 2.2 billion users globally, 250 million of them in India. The social media platform has provided some tools that help users determine how much of their data can be shared but not many know about it. For example, the impact of the latest data breach could have been limited if users were aware that they could actually turn off permissions to third party applications. Unfortunately, it took a data breach incident for Facebook to proactively highlight this security feature.
It is time for technology companies like Facebook to take the onus of creating awareness about data protection upon themselves. Like most human inventions, internet also has an evil side and this must be communicated as a statutory warning. This should be backed up with strong data protection laws that impose heavy penalties on violators. What’s worrying about the data breach at Facebook is that it happened without any hacking. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may have apologised but the reality is that platforms like Facebook thrive on getting maximum user information. The entire business model around personalised advertising requires access to more and more user information. Newer technologies like artificial intelligence are also completely dependent on gathering user-specific information. Some of these activities could be legitimate but it needs to be clearly defined and communicated to the users.
While regulators in the US, China and the EU have put in place laws to address concerns around privacy and data protection, India has so far taken a piecemeal approach. Consumers on their part should be wary of sharing information online. Even harmless looking mobile applications are able to collect large amounts of data. This includes the user’s contact list, messages, camera, and location, which may not have any direct correlation with the underlying service being offered. The data breach at Facebook should be a wake-up call for technology companies, policymakers and consumers of data services.
via Thumbs down – Business Line