Social Media Data Exploitation

Caleb Townsend
Staff Writer   United States Cybersecurity Magazine

Many Facebook users have fallen victim to data exploitation.

Former data analytics contractor Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on an independent company for harvesting the Facebook information of more than 50 million people in the United States. This has resulted in one of the most significant cases of data exploitation in Facebook history. Facebook had given permission for psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan to mine the data from people who consented through a personality test app.  This app then implicitly asked access to the user’s friends list, the pages they have liked, and their locations.  The App also mined the data of the user’s friend’s profiles. Things turned ugly though, when Kogan sold the information to a third-party data firm.  The data was used to analyze people’s interest and political leanings. Upon gathering data, the firm targeted the people with ads that matched their specific psychological habits.

It is important to note that this level of data breach and data exploitation is new. But it is equally important to note that this case of exploiting our personal Facebook information is not new. Facebook has become cultural shorthand for connection.  We are in an age where it is weird if you do not have Facebook. With the global presence Facebook has, people are very willing to trust everything on Facebook. We are being pacified and desensitized to the fact that we are actively and voluntarily giving complex maps of our locations, our interests, our habits, our thoughts, and our lives to the public. We blindly trust that Facebook will be responsible with all of our information. It is imperative to protect your information and avoid trusting social media without discretion.

So now what?

With the confirmation that our data is being exploited, important questions and implications about how we use social media and how social media uses us begin to arise.  Does Facebook lend out our data to third-parties? Is there a way to hold social media sites accountable for being transparent with how they use our data?  What can we do to navigate social media in a responsible way?

Try to avoid those “fun personality quizzes” that conditionally require third-party apps to have access to data about yourself. Consider thinking twice before posting your location consistently via “checking in” to restaurants, or worse, enabling the “nearby friends” app that consistently tracks your location. Further more, now your privacy and advertisement blocking options.  But most of all, be aware of what information you have on your profile and who can access it.

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