Tech firm harvests users’ Facebook data

On March 17, The Guardian and The New York Times uncovered that a British software company, Cambridge Analytica, was releasing Facebook accounts data. It was reported that more than 50 million Facebook users’ data had been given to Cambridge Analytica to create digital propaganda on the site through advertisements. Moreover, allegations were made that the company had used Facebook users’ data to influence recent political elections, including the 2016 Presidential election and the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Having learned about Cambridge Analytica a year ago through reading articles and researching the company, Will Fox (’18) was shocked at the way Facebook misused users’ data. “I felt a bit surprised and un- sure about Facebook’s integrity,” he said. “[Also ]the integrity of other technology firms that store so much of our data and have tons of our personal information and what they’re willing to do to make a profit.” On the other hand, Grade 11 Dean Rodney Yeoh was “not surprised” upon learning about the scandal. “I teach a class called Top- ics of Government and Law and we cover data privacy so having covered that I’m not surprised,” he said. “It wasn’t like I knew that it was going to happen but it was something that could always happen, there’s always that risk.”

Liam Hamama (’20) believes that Facebook should not receive legal sanctions as users technically agreed to the information access, but he feels that the scan- dal was unethical. “I don’t think the government should punish [Facebook] because they haven’t broken any specific laws,” he said. “But I think there’s a moral issue with using people’s information in order to gain money especially by covering it up in hundreds of pages of a user agreement.”

Similarly, Technology Coordinator Mariam Mathew believes that there is a difference between ethical and legal, and what Face- book has done is ethically wrong. “ What Facebook absolutely knows is that no user of Facebook has actually read [the user agreement] to that level to know that they have the right to give their information in such a manner to third parties,” she said.

In regards to the Facebook user agreement and Zuckerberg’s Senate Hearing, Fox will be looking into how he utilizes the application. “In the testimony I heard that Zuckerberg said that you can change a lot of the Facebook settings yourself to protect your own information and that’s on the users end. It’s their responsibility to do that, so I will be looking into my user information and what I make public and what my friends and non-friends can see,” Fox said.

Mathew also feels that in some sense, users should know that Facebook would like to use their information for alternative purposes. However, she believes that this does not excuse their actions.

Yeoh believes that a lack of data privacy is “playing a worrying role in politics. “[It’s] very alarming because now politics is not just about issues it’s not just about policies. Hey here are my policies verses your policies, but it’s beyond that,” he said. “The other layer is we have access to your private digital data and we can manipulate it to give you the news that you want to hear.”

In response to the allegations that the scandal may have influenced events such as Brexit, Hamama does not believe that they should be reconsidered. “People still voted. You can’t just reverse a referendum based on a Facebook scandal. I think that’s not democratic so I don’t think it’s going to have an effect now but I think it will certainly impact what Facebook do in the future.”

Although Hamama will continue to use Facebook despite the scandal, he believes the company should make changes to prevent users from leaving the platform. “It hasn’t worried me personally because I don’t mind being advertised to based on what I search and what I view but I think some people will take issue with it,” he said. “That’s why social media platforms are going to have to adapt to what people are calling for because otherwise someone else is going to make a new social Media platform that doesn’t sell information to advertisers.”

Mathew also acknowledged that regardless of what happens legally with Facebook, reform is needed in the internet world. “Maybe the answer is we go to a Netflix type model where we say it’s a small price, there will be people who won’t be willing to pay it but enough of us are will- ing to pay therefore we don’t need to make it a model where I am the product,” she said.

Additionally, Hamama believes that a similar scandal could occur on any other social media platform which has made people become more wary. “I think the Cambridge Analytica scandal has been a wake up call for people to remember that what you do on social media is not private and it could fall into the wrong hands,” he said.

Even before the scandal Hama- ma has always been careful about what personal information he shares online. “I don’t post my political opinion on public threads just in case…in the future if there is a dictator in the country I’m living in they could know exactly what my political opinion is, if I’m their opponent or not their opponent,” he said. “I think it’s better for my political opinion to stay off of public forums so I will just keep doing that.”

Similarly, Yeoh only uses Face- book to keep in touch with friends and never posts personal information.“I think because I am so aware of data privacy I hardly post information about myself,” he said. However, as a result of the scandal, Yeoh plans to change his Facebook profile picture which is of him and his child.

Although Fox believes that this scandal probably won’t do much to affect Facebook in the short term, he does think that Facebook as an application is on the decline. “All social media platforms start to age, some of the people even at ASL a few years younger are starting to not even have Facebook already they’re migrating to Snapchat and Instagram. I think it will be fine in the short run, but in the long run I think it will lose a lot of support,” Fox said.