Coming home on the commuter train last night I overheard two men discussing the Cambridge Analytica story. As one grappled to understand its implications the other simply said, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about, data selling is not illegal’. I leave you to ponder this statement and draw your own conclusions, mine however succinctly brought me to considering the murky realm of what is legal, moral or ethical. Here, what is moral and ethical is a highly toxic conversation infused with subjectivity and polarising in nature which is age and gender-specific, for we do not always think as a collective.
This week Mark Zuckerberg came down from the Mount Olympus that is Facebook Headquarters, which in itself is a supernatural occurrence both for the public and to Zuckerberg, as he is not used to having to explain himself to one and all. He apologises, clarifies, manoeuvres and repents in a bid for damage limitation to ensure his companies survival. In the CNN interview, he states that “this was a major breach of trust and we have a responsibility to protect peoples data” (Wiener-Bronner, 2018). Furthermore, ‘they have made mistakes’ and he is ‘happy to testify before Congress’ (BBC News, 2018) Self-preservation suggests that his main aim concentrates on the legal and financial impact and not the ethical or moral.
Not for the first time, I analysed my own practices and how I keep my online persona as private as possible. Since starting the City LIS modules I have modified, adapted and adopted new habits where my ‘digital self’ is concerned, not that I had a high digital presence before Oct 2018. It is not that I have anything to hide but that the ‘power of self’ is mine and that psychoanalysis for profit by an algorithm is an alarmingly eerie concept to me. For me, like the lapping tide, the focus of personal data ebbs and flows between acknowledgement, digital hibernation and self-protection. The complexities of debates surrounding, privacy management, personal data storage and safety both confuse and inform. Many of us know about data mining/selling but do nothing to stop or limit it as we see no harm in the practice or are too busy to manage it. This, however, is not a line of defence for we each have a responsibility to ourselves to partake in our personal online safety.
The ambivalence that some social media users feel towards privacy by putting vast amounts of information out there is both saddening and concerning. Yet, an article by John Shaw called ‘The erosion of privacy in the Internet era‘ puts forth that young people are privacy aware but that it is about control of information rather than what information is out there. Other arguments are that ‘Younger people….are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion’ (Shaw, 2009). These are intriguing thoughts indeed within the digital privacy erosion debate. Yet with 48% of 65-75-year olds now having social media accounts and 9 out of 10 opting for Facebook communication trends are changing and social media is not just the playground of the young. When asked about online privacy and security 16% of over 55s stated that they had not even considered their personal data risk (Ofcom, 2017). Is this now the inevitable sign of the times?
Lurking in the shadows there have always been those who will take advantage of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the uninformed or misinformed populous. Much hope is pinned on the new GDPR legislation coming into force on the 25th May 2018, as like a Jedi knight it will save us from the dark side of data. Yet, realistically, who will police it, what will the impact be and how long it will take to enforce change across societal digital data exploitation is unclear.
As #DeleteFacebook is trending on Twitter and Whatsapps co-founder Brian Acton is asking is it time to delete? (Yurief, 2018) is anyone really surprised at this latest media explosion regarding personal data misuse for profit? Surely not. One Twitter user commented, “Remember we aren’t the customers we are the product” (Yurief, 2018) which is both a naive and simplistic assessment albeit true. However, we don’t blindly walk into traffic without looking first, so why blindly use social media without informing ourselves of risk?
The Facebook crisis is undoubtedly a timely cataclysmic tidal wave signalling warning towards all organisations, not just to data mining companies, to clean up their backyards where inappropriate use and selling of personal data is concerned. This single and global event has had a far greater impact than the knowledge that GDPR is on its way and it couldn’t be more timely. Perhaps it has made individuals sit up and take stock of their responsibilities of ‘personal data self’? You have the power and the choice to show organisations like Facebook that you will not tolerate such a breach of trust by simply switching off, regularly checking your privacy housekeeping or transferring to a more ethically data responsible platform.
Therefore, in a randomly bizarre twist to the storyline, perhaps and it is only a perhaps, we need to thank the exploitative habits of Facebook executives and the journalistic efforts of the media investigating team for ensuring a feasibly safer data privacy future by sending a warning shot across the bow of others who seek to exploit our data and encourage greater self-regulation.
Trust is hard to achieve and easy to lose. In an ever increasing landscape of mistrust of public bodies, politicians and media, librarians are still considered one stalwart, truthful source for citizens to acquire accurate information or training (Carnegie UK Trust, 2018). Therefore, is the librarian or information professional turning into the last line of factual defence?
BBC News (2018). Zuckerberg speaks out on data breaches. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-43494337 [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Carnegie UK Trust. (2018). Privacy and Public Benefit. [online] Available at: https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/balancing-privacy-public-benefit/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Gov.uk. (2018). Government to strengthen UK data protection law – GOV.UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-strengthen-uk-data-protection-law [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Ofcom (2017). Rise of the Social Seniors revealed. [online] Ofcom. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2017/rise-social-seniors [Accessed 16 Jan. 2018].
Wiener-Bronner, D. (2018). Mark Zuckerberg has regrets: ‘I’m really sorry that this happened’. [online] CNNMoney. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/21/technology/mark-zuckerberg-apology/index.html [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Yurieff, K. (2018). Fed up with Facebook? Here’s how to protect your data. [online] CNNMoney. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/20/technology/how-to-protect-facebook-data/index.html?iid=EL [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].