Facebook Saga! – That’s the hot topic for the last few days. Facebook is in the news for all the wrong reasons. This post is more about discussing the key points of the drama that’s going on over it.
A brief history for anyone who is living in a cave and has not heard of the latest controversy going on with Facebook. You can read more detailed information here.
To review this briefly, Facebook collects information about everything you do when accessing Facebook (either via the app or via the web browser) – each click, likes, comments, posts, location from where it was accessed, and so on. Facebook then does a lot of analysis on this entire data to show you relevant advertisements, content, and in return makes a lot of money from these advertisers. The better the analysis and targeting, the more it can charge. The more accurate information it can get out of your activity, leads to better analytics. Unfortunately, someone (Cambridge Analytica) found a way to fraudulently access almost 50 millions Facebook users’ data and manipulated it for vested interests.
I would say there are multiple things here and we need to look at each one individually.
Facebook collects users data – clicks, likes, locations, posts, & more
Facebook analyzes this to promote targeted ads
Access to this data was shared/ compromised.
I will be referring to these points as ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ below, rather than spelling out each one again and again.
I have seen a large number of posts where people are complaining about point ‘1’, and also about point ‘2’ (collection & analysis of data). But this applies to almost all the apps that are being used and not limited to only Facebook.
- Google Maps – In the beginning we used Google Maps only to find direction to go to an unknown location. Now, we use it to find the best route, or traffic data. I use it every morning as I get into my Car for the office, to know which route out of a possible 3 routes I should take. And I check it again mid-way to ensure nothing has changed. Google Maps keeps track of my trips, and it has a feature called ‘timeline‘ which shows me where I drove on any particular day in the past. So Maps knows exactly where I have been, when (date & time), which route I took and where I started and what my destination was.
- I do a lot of running, and keep my ‘Endomondo‘ app to track the run. So this app has all the history of all the places I have run, the route and the time of the day. And this history goes back a few years.
- Even the browser you use to visit various web-sites does the same. It shows you quick links to the sites you have visited. So it’s keeping track of where you have been (which sites). It knows your location, what time you went to a site, how much time you spent on it and I am sure it’s collecting lot more
- Of course, we all know that information on your purchases online is tracked and relevant ads start showing up on all the web-pages.
As you will see by all the above examples, ‘1’ and ‘2’ (collection & analysis) is done by every app that you use on your smartphone. It’s done by every web-site you use. It’s done by your phone service provider (so they can give you better offer when you roam, as an example). And I do want the apps to do that to help me. If Endomondo simply tracked my run, and deleted the data after each run, I would stop using it. I use the app because of how it helps me improve my running. I like it that the app lets me compare my current run from previous runs, find out the elevation, the terrain, the weather difference, pace for each kilometer etc, and all of this helps me in finding what I may have done right or wrong in that run, helping me improve my overall performance. This is a huge benefit for me, for which I do not mind having the app collect & analyze my data.
I find it naive when people ask the question “Would you delete your Facebook account and stop using Facebook?”. If you are worried about what is being collected & analyzed, then stop using your smartphone, since every app on it does it for it’s own use. Oh, and by the way, your cable provider also keeps track of which channel you use and for how long. So get rid of the cable. So no TV. Oh right, your car also has transmitters so the manufacturer can help you if you get stuck someplace. So stop using the car. And of course, your credit card company keeps track of your spends, what you are buying, when you are buying, where (location) you are buying. So stop that as well.
So if you look at your life as it exists now, you pretty much need to go back 50 years if you want to avoid anything that keeps track of what you are doing. And I bet even if you go live in a cottage in a jungle, you will find something will track your activities.
So my message is to “STOP” worrying about the app collecting the data, but “Always” check on what the app is collecting and what you are allowing the app to collect. Make sure it’s collecting what you are comfortable with. And also remember, the more data you give, the better your experience will be using the application. What you want to worry about is, what you are doing/sharing, how much data you are sharing and can you be intelligent about it, and last but not the least about point ‘3’ (is the app letting someone else access this data). You want to ensure that the app which is storing all of this data, is not misusing it and also not sharing the data with others, nor it has a way for others to steal this data.
So it boils down to “Security” and “Privacy“. Is the App following these 2 principles? Again Privacy does not mean no collection of the data. Privacy means keeping the data to itself. If an app never collects any data, you will not have all these advancements & benefits. Take away all the suggestions of friends, all the forwards you get from Facebook then what you are left with a platform where you post data but get no feedback. That is not what anyone needs and wants. What you want is an App you can trust to provide right information, but also keep all of your data secure. Facebook faltered in that aspect and is paying dearly for it. But I think this is a major eye-opener for all the apps and also to the public, and I am sure Facebook will ensure security going forward. In fact, this will ensure all the major apps we all use (Twitter, Google Maps) will re-visit and ensure Security and Privacy. But do I believe this will not happen again, I don’t. In the current times where people do not care for what they share, to whom they share, there’s every possibility that this story may be repeated.
As IoT (Internet of Things) and sensors find their way into each and every item & gadget that we use, the need for Security & Privacy will increase manifold. We just need to be sensible, responsible and vigilant.