Social networking websites have been used for many years now, becoming more popular than ever and a norm in people’s everyday lives. Whether they are used for sharing updates, recent events, and pictures with family and friends, or for keeping up with the latest happenings and events across the globe, social media platforms remain very popular and heavily used by many age groups and social classes, with the most popular websites right now being Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, and Snapchat. However, concerns about the privacy of those websites’ users were raised in recent years, especially with the many incidents of private information leaks from Facebook and other websites. Personal information seems to be easily susceptible to exploitation and use by the ownning companies, which leaves users suspicious and dissatisfied.
Many ask the question, though: who should be held accountable for the collection and distribution of the personal information of the platforms’ users? Some people say that social networking websites are the ones to blame for any distribution or misuse of personal information as they are the ones responsible for storing such large amounts of information and data. Others, meanwhile, say that users are actually the ones to blame, since they themselves provide these websites with their information in the first place, especially when on Android and Apple devices, for example, applications always ask users for permissions to store certain data and gain access to specific information on the user’s device before they are downloaded, and users willingly accept that.
Only very recently has political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used the raw data of 50 million Facebook profiles as Facebook exposed the data to a researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, for a personality quiz application he built on the website. Kogan then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica, which worked for now-US President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Cambridge Analytica was created when Steve Bannon approached conservative megadonors Rebekah and Robert Mercer to fund a political consulting firm. Bannon became vice president of Cambridge Analytica, and during the 2016 election, he reached out to the Trump campaign to introduce the two sides. Bannon, of course, eventually became a senior adviser to Trump before he was fired in August 2017,” Vox reported.
“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” said Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in response to the scandal.
Some Facebook users decided to delete their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal as they continue to discover that social networks have much more data about them than they were aware, including complete logs of their incoming and outgoing calls and SMS messages, according to The Guardian. One user claimed that for the period from October 2016 to July 2017, his log contained the metadata of every cellular call he has ever made, including time, duration, and “metadata about every text message” he has ever received or sent, The Guardian reported. Many other users have also reported unease at the data they have discovered being logged, including the contacts on their devices, their calendars, and their friends’ birthdays. The response to this was launching the #DeleteFacebook hashtag to encourage users of the website to delete their Facebook accounts and boycott the platform entirely in order to express their dissatisfaction with the leaking of their private information.
In response to this, Facebook’s administration has denied logging Android users’ calls and text history without their permission. The company said that the option of information logging on social media sites has always been through people opting into it, which means that when the feature is enabled, it allows Facebook to see when a call or text was sent or received, according to CNET. On the other hand, Cambridge Analytica has denied using the information it received from Facebook for the benefit of Trump’s campaign.
Over the past few years, there have been several leaks of personal photos and data of Snapchat and Instagram users, particularly targeting celebrities and famous figures, leaving many wondering if their private lives are ever safe in the age of social media, especially if people willingly accept being part of these websites and sharing their information with them and the entire world. Additionally, the way these companies misuse the information they have of their users will continue to raise even more concerns unless effective and clear privacy options are made available to ensure that, after all, this is not an era of chaos and zero cyber safety.