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How Public Is Your Private Data On Facebook

After realizing what was going on Facebook, government came into action and banned Cambridge Analytica, but it was too late. Facebook users have paid the price of using its services for free

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India tops the list of Facebook users with number of Facebook users crossing 250 million marks in January 2018.

Recently, Facebook has come under attack for data mining users and sharing the information with analytic companies. The company in focus is Cambridge Analytica which had data mined around 50 million Facebook users -  they used a feature called "Friends Permission" that allowed miners to pull data from account holders and every Facebook friend they had. The company used Facebook user data to provide the following services:

1.    Local knowledge and global expertise
2.    Global reputation and expertise - credibility
3.    Software for political intelligence & election management
4.    Android application for organisation and election management where information can be updated in real time on mobile
5.    Access to the foremost behavioural change communications methodology in India
6.    The complete package - 'A to Z' of election Management services encompasses:

"    Caste research
"    Voter demographic data collection and analysis
"    Behavioural polling
"    Media monitoring
"    Target audience analysis - campaign strategy
"    Campaign consultancy - strategy and intervention management
"    Poll planning & management

Most have been unaware of the fact that all the engagement a user is having on Facebook or any other social media site can be a source for influencing the user's perception about economic, social, political or technological issues. Facebook users do not even realize that all their participation on social media platform like:

- what were you in your previous birth?
- Or which Bollywood actor you resemble?
- Or what will you be like in 2025? etc,
are just means to collect information from you and your friends? Not only this, all your other engagements for example: what you like, where have you checked-in, what are your interests etc are big data collected by social media to gather consumer insights.

Finally, Cambridge Analytica grabbed this opportunity and based on data collected from Facebook, they could determine which fake news story will influence voter to vote for a particular party. Both Brexit and Trump campaigners hired their services and both of them won. They have been accused of using 50 million Facebook users data to develop election strategies. In India they started from Bihar elections in the year 2010, targeting the floating voters and Janta Dal United. 90% of the seats were targeted by Cambridge Analytica. They analysed the Facebook users behavior and developed their personality profile for psychographic targeting. They then developed tailor made messages for the target groups and made them change their perception about a particular issue or political party.

After realizing what was going on Facebook, government came into action and banned Cambridge Analytica, but it was too late. Facebook users have paid the price of using its services for free.

With over 2.13 billion monthly users, 1.15 billion mobile active users, 1.40 billion people on an average log on daily on Facebook and Age 25-34 constitutes 30% of the users, enough reason for Facebook to protect their users private information. Beside the scandal - people's personal data misuse is clearly a major concern, and moreover such insights could, potentially, be used to influence people's political perceptions, in order to favour a particular political party or candidate. Though we might be disappointed with whatever has happened, but actually they have just exploited the Facebook very business model - the Facebook ads.

The Facebook ads do the same - segment profile the Facebook users and then advertisers target messages to influence a call to action among the targeted users. That is the reason Facebook advertising is so effective, and Facebook has allowed, and still does allow, for such targeting. So it is not only that Cambridge Analytica was able to access such data - they, and many others, including Facebook, have done this for so many years. So everyone is doing it but Cambridge Analytica got caught in the act for psychographic targeting and changing the fate of a nation.

Though Facebook keeps on making efforts to protect users' information but allurement of facebook data is high - it is very accurate in profiling people. Political parties/ marketers can map a particular community or consumer group and can work out on commonality as to what they like and map their preferences. Even if Facebook bans such companies, the older data, 5-10 year old still is relevant for psychographic targeting. And that's where Facebook is handicapped.

One of the Facebook features which came into controversy was GRAPH SEARCH. This allows user to make friends based on place, interests etc. For example you can find friends who like the same movie as you or liked same restaurant as you. This, again, is the very model Facebook's ad system is built on. Google too employs remarketing as a strategy. It is designed for this type of targeting as used by Cambridge Analytica. But they got caught and many more are still doing the same. They are just a delivery vehicle for the opportunity that Facebook platform provides to these companies.

It's good that all this has spewed out in open. Technology is supposed to ameliorate our lives, and not be a weapon in hands of exploitative. It's to be aligned with democratic ideals of transparency and forthrightness. It's to aid users, consumers and citizens be better decision makers in their lives. Utmost sanctity has to be accorded to privacy issues. The issue is more complex than it seems and we need to understand and guard our personal information from going public. Else see, what can happen. Gabriel Marquez once commented, "All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret." If we permit private to leak out, imagine the havoc secret's revelations would wreak.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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facebook Private data Cambridge Analytica

Gaurav Sood

The author is a brand communication professional, consultant and educator with two decade practice of creating strong brands

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