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The Paradox Of Privacy!

2014 Until then Facebook user data was freely available. But later, it changed its privacy laws

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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In 2004, a game-changing social network came into being and changed the way social interactions, privacy and networking worked forever. It was Facebook, and it was free. But as it turns out, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. Recently, the social networking giant came in the eye of the storm for being a medium of privacy infiltration and unintended political manoeuvring. It brought about a whole tangent of debates questioning the tenants of privacy, our behavioural reaction to political manipulation, as well as the significance of data mining to generate revenue and geopolitical ramifications. This brings us to the question should social media be regulated?

With targeted advertising being one of the main revenue sources for Facebook, it would be naïve to think that one didn’t know that privacy infiltration was already happening. But the Cambridge Analytica scandal — wherein the UK-based data firm misused the personal data of millions of Facebook users to sway elections around the world — has set a new precedent for the world of social media, where nothing of this scale had happened before. In fact, the laws around social media are still ambiguous. Though Facebook is responsible for the data breach to an extent, it cannot be blamed entirely for the scandal. In fact, this is an unprecedented case of privacy laws conflicting with freedom of expression.

Yes, creating psychographic profiles to sway public opinion is something we should definitely be wary of. That said, Facebook could not have foreseen such a data breach; the world of social media is still new and the players are evolving. In fact, Facebook is a convenient scapegoat, given it’s an open platform for sharing personal information. Prior to 2014, the user data was freely available, but Facebook did change its privacy laws and asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all the data taken from the site, which didn’t happen. Pervasive commercial manoeuvring using data from social media has always happened through targeted advertising, but swaying elections by using this data is another ball-game altogether. Cambridge Analytica should be the one whose morals should be questioned.

That said, in the upcoming Indian elections of 2019, or the US elections of 2020, the role of social media will be under scrutiny. Creating psychographic profiles of people to sell products is already a raging game, but with possible wide ramifications on elections, there will be an increasing call to regulate social media. Will this regulation infringe upon the freedom of expression, the very pillar upon which social media is built? Only time will tell.


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