The latest noise about Facebook and privacy has stirred up a hornet’s nest – finally. It is not, like, it is any big surprise. Cybersecurity experts have, for years, been warning us that our private data from social media sites like Facebook is being siphoned off by any number of entities for a variety of purposes – and legally. But even on social media sites, posts are one thing but the private part of our data should remain private. Yet it seems that most of them, and us, just are not listening.
In one sense, what happened to them is no more than a carbon copy of the many breaches in recent history – the IRS, Equifax, Aetna, FedEx, Underarmour, Saks Fifth Avenue, Panera Bread, and hundreds more – big and small. And all Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg could say was, “We know at Facebook we did not do enough to protect people’s data.” Of all the companies in the world, Facebook should have known better.
Whether it was 87 or 87 million records, the compromised numbers do not matter. What matters is that entities, from Panera Bread to Facebook to the Social Security Administration to the IRS, all have a fiduciary responsibility to secure their data. Some do better than others.
Social media sites are different from banks, retailers, services and the like. On social media, we want to let others know who we are and what we are doing. Such sites contain a lot more of our data than the others. We can limit who sees that data from the outside, but from the inside, it’s all nice and tidily packaged for the site and anyone who hacks the site can capture the data.
Social media sites have been puking up our data at alarming rates; and to an astounding number of third-party companies, like, and different from Cambridge Analytica. And these companies have come up with all kinds of ways to massage that data and sell it for marketing purposes. So it is to their advantage to have the user put up as much information as possible. The rest is history.
These data suckers and their methodologies are wide and deep. A while back I had written about Smart TVs that inserted short, ultrasonic sounds into television commercials and web pages. Then, special software is placed onto your computers, tablets, and smartphones that will pick up these “inaudible” signals, and, via cookies, send what it learns back to data mining companies like SilverPush. These companies, in turn, sell the data to its customers, who use that data, in the same way as everybody else, to micro-target the user.
This is a bit more nefarious, yet not illegal. But there was little attention paid to this back then. It seems that it takes a Silicon Valley wunderkind to really get the attention of Washington.
The Facebook debacle seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Seems like Bank America, Target, Equifax, and others just were not important enough to get the attention Facebook got – that says a lot about our priorities. Then there was a tremendous amount of chest thumping by Congress, most of whom had no clue as to what Facebook even is, or that privacy is even an issue, as was evidenced by their questioning of Zuckerberg. That, to me is more concerning than the Facebook case, itself.
But today, the privacy issue is so far out of the gate, that it seems unlikely that there will be any significant changes in the wings. Maybe some minor regulations like empowering users to delete their account or remove (and I mean really remove) data. But there is no way Congress is going to cripple the billions (and soon to be trillions) of cyber advertising dollars and the fast-growing industry behind them.
However, what Congress needs to do is put some regulations out there that, a) make these companies be upfront about what they can do with your data. And, not buried in some convoluted EULA that nobody, except Washington lawyers, can understand. And, b) let us control our data! That means when we want to remove it, it gets removed – all of it and permanently! Not just relegating it to some archive somewhere where the company can retrieve it at a moment’s notice or some hacker can find it.
One thing I have to agree with is that we own some of this privacy invasion. With social media, we are all too willing to put stuff out there that is way too private. We let some of this happen, and so we share some of the blame.
But in the end, no one has the right to offer up our data without us having a thorough understanding of what is being done, and how, as well as keeping it secure from malfeasants. Let us hope that Congress sees that too.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio.