The Trinidad Guardian / Technology is a marvellous thing that has made our lives easier. Recent generations have enjoyed such an unprecedented level of device and digital assistance, that living without it seems unthinkable.
Unfortunately, it is also a double-edged sword. And we tend to forget what we have sacrificed and surrendered in order to accommodate it.
Facebook, the social media platform, is one of the most recognisable brand names in today’s world. What started off as a networking service for university students in February 2004, has expanded to include over two billion users. The light blue banner of its website now graces all our computing devices; all you need is an internet connection and a willingness to join and interact with the world’s largest online community.
Its popularity is based on the concept of having a virtual life that exists in parallel to and reflects the real one. This allows someone to share their thoughts, experiences and photos in real time, and receive instantaneous feedback. It’s fun…for the most part. But the risks and dangers, whether we are aware of them or not, whether we choose to take them seriously or not, have always been there. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before all that free-flowing information came back to bite us in the virtual backside.
The recent revelation that personal information from over 50 million Facebook accounts was sold to Cambridge Analytica, a British political analysis firm contracted by the Trump presidential campaign, inflamed the nascent concerns pertaining to privacy in the digital age. The fallout was immediate: Facebook’s stock plummeted and politicians from both the US and UK are calling for an investigation to determine if users’ rights were violated, and whether the company should be held liable.
Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview on CNN last Wednesday (21st), admitted that, “…this was a major breach of trust,” and promised to implement the necessary safeguards to ensure that it didn’t happen again. As sincere as he was, this might be a case of trying to close the stable door after the horse has already bolted.
It’s easy to place the blame on Facebook or Cambridge Analytica, but the truth is everyone who has an account shares part of the responsibility as well. Facebook isn’t a service, it’s a multi-billion-dollar business that deals in data—our data. Every post you make or like, every article you share, every quiz you take…all that data is recorded, compiled, and then sold to interested parties; it’s all in the fine print.
Those parties, in turn, use that data to seek out relevant people to advertise products or supply information based on a statistical likelihood that they might find it interesting. This is called targeted marketing, a tool that’s almost as old as the practice of advertising itself and has only been made easier by the wonders of the internet. But the personal data we may think is innocuous is also used to create “personality profiles” and, as was supposedly the case with Cambridge Analytica, can be used to manipulate how we think by exposing us to certain types of information that preys on our pre-existing biases.
In light of this knowledge, the question is what are the users going to do about it?
Mr Zuckerberg didn’t come into our homes and accost us for our personal information—we gave it up voluntarily. Sacrificing our privacy is the price of living in this technologically-dependant civilisation. Even here in Trinidad and Tobago, where we facetiously refer to Facebook as “Macobook,” there’s the insatiable desire to know what everyone around us is up to. But what stops either of our political parties from hiring a foreign entity to mine our data to use in future campaigns? The ethnic divisiveness of our democracy is a vulnerability that can be easily exploited. Vigilance is not enough because once we put something online we lose control of where it goes. The safest thing to do is also the easiest—log off and turn off. The hard part is living without it.
Paying the price
Con Información de The Trinidad Guardian
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