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The Biggest Lesson For Facebook Is That Users Are Not Guinea Pigs

Facebook has promptly introduced changes to its privacy policy

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Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO reaches out to Microsoft President for help: Report. Flickr

A couple of months back, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked if users data on his platform was at risk, he unambiguously said ‘No, adding that there was no way the data of his users could be breached or “improperly shared” on a massive scale.

The Cambridge Analytica data scandal proved him wrong — and then, under intense media scrutiny, a couple of late admissions about users’ personal data being accessed by third parties revealed that all was not well behind the firewalls and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven systems at Facebook.

Fresh reports surfaced last week that Facebook provided select companies “customised data-sharing deals” that let them gain “special access to user records”.

Another media report exposed how the social network allowed about 60 device makers, including Chinese smartphone players, access personal information of users and their friends. Facebook later admitted sharing users’ data with Chinese company Huawei, along with three other China-based smartphone makers — Lenovo, OPPO and TCL.

The bare fact is that the 2.19 billion monthly active users (217 million in India) on Facebook constitute the world’s biggest marketplace and the mining of personal data drives profits for both the social media giant and its advertisers.

In 2017, the social media network’s advertising revenue grew strongly at 49 per cent to reach $39.9 billion.

Facebook’s mobile advertising revenue represented approximately 91 per cent of advertising revenue for the first quarter of 2018 — up from approximately 85 per cent of advertising revenue in the first quarter of 2017.

The plain truth is that advertisers need a constant flow of data for a targeted, customised approach to reach a bigger audience. Facebook has a vast pool of data that, when curated into specific data sets, helps push ads according to various age and other groups.

Last year, a confidential 23-page Facebook document prepared by the company’s two top Australian executives outlined how the social network can target “moments when young people need a confidence boost” in pinpoint detail.

Facebook mobile app
Facebook mobile app, Pixabay

Facebook collected the information on a person’s moods — including feeling “worthless”, “overwhelmed” and “nervous” — and then divulged the same to advertisers who used it to target them.

The company later admitted it was wrong to target children and apologised. “We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate,” a Facebook spokeswoman told The Australian newspaper.

It will, thus, be naïve to think that Facebook was completely caught off-guard when it came to knowing about users’ data being used for various purposes, including political gain during elections.

All is not, however, yet lost for Facebook when it comes to showing respect for the humongous data it has.

While apologies are being written every other day – including “we are learning from our mistakes” – a humble admission that every bit of users’ data was sacrosanct, was not up for sale or to be shared with third parties should have come first.

Then comes the second part: Looking at how other tech companies like Microsoft or Apple are holding their forte when it comes to data security, shun arrogance and forge strategic alliances to gain deeper insights.

The third and final part is to abide by the law of the land, irrespective of the country.

“Persons or organisations which collect and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by EU law,” says the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force on May 25.

Facebook has promptly introduced changes to its privacy policy regarding GDPR but the effort has to be done across the board for all countries.

Before Zuckerberg hires 20,000 people to secure his users’ data by the end of this year — as he promised the US Senate and EU lawmakers — the biggest lesson for Facebook in 2018 is that users are not guinea pigs and their online expressions must be kept encrypted, in safe lockers somewhere on Cloud.

Also read: Facebook kept sharing users friend data in special deals report says

Taking users’ personal space for granted cannot go on for long, especially at a time when millennials are becoming more aware of their digital rights and governments the world over are busy drafting laws to deal with the new social media reality. (IANS)

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Political ad Spend on Facebook Picks up in April

The 2019 Lok Sabha election is being held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19

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FILE - The Facebook app icon is shown on an iPhone in New York. VOA

Political parties and their affiliates ramped up spending on social media ads ahead of the third phase of Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for Tuesday, show data released by Facebook Ad Library.

Indians spent around Rs 7 crore for running political ads on Facebook and Instagram in the first 20 days of April, while the amount spent on these platforms in February-March was about Rs 10 crore.

Facebook’s Ad Library, a searchable database, includes ads related to politics and issues of national importance run on Facebook or Instagram.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates continue to lead the ad spending on Facebook. The official BJP page took the top spot in the list of spenders on social media platforms. Of the Rs 1.3 crore that it spent on Facebook, Rs 44.32 lakh was spent during the week ending April 20.

The official Congress page on Facebook spent Rs 56.69 lakh during February-April 20.

However, supporters and affiliates of political parties account for most of the spending on the social media platforms.

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FILE – An Indian man surfs a Facebook page at an Internet cafe in New Delhi, India, Feb. 9, 2016. VOA

For example, the pro-BJP pages — Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat (Rs 2.23 core), My First Vote For Modi (Rs 1.08 crore) and Nation with NaMo (Rs 1.20 crore) among others — spent much more than the Congress.

Similarly, the pro-Congress page “Bande Mein Hai Dum” spent Rs 2.59 lakh for drumming up support for the grand old party on Facebook and the Indian Youth Congress spent Rs 6.52 lakh on the social media platform.

Among the regional parties, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) lead the spending table on Facebook.

Also Read- Warning for WhatsApp Users in UAE Issued: Report

On Twitter, the accounts spending over $100 during the past week belonged to BJP MLA from Mandawa Narendra Kumar, Mumbai Congress unit chief Milind Deora, Congress leader and former Union Minister Subodh Kant Sahai, BJD President Naveen Patnaik and the TN Youth Party.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election is being held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19. (IANS)