Data Can Of Worms

FILE - In this June 11, 2014, file photo, a man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook and Mozilla are among the companies and organizations launching a $14 million fund to promote news literacy and increase trust in journalism. The nonprofit, called the News Integrity Initiative, will be based at the City University of New York. It comes as recent polls show the public’s trust in the news industry at a low. Others contributing to the fund include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and the Ford Foundation. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

FILE – In this June 11, 2014, a man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook and Mozilla are among the companies and organizations launching a $14 million fund to promote news literacy and increase trust in journalism. The nonprofit, called the News Integrity Initiative, will be based at the City University of New York. It comes as recent polls show the public’s trust in the news industry at a low. Others contributing to the fund include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and the Ford Foundation. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Clearly, matters have gone much beyond worms, viruses and trojans that unexpectedly make our computers crash. It is all about that little tick mark against ‘I Agree’ to terms and conditions that probably no one reads. That is all it takes for data to spiral into phenomenal algorithms that we are unable to perceive.

Financial whistle-blowers seem to dim before the data breach whistle blowers that is agitating individuals about privacy worldwide today. For now, Facebook is in the eye of the storm and countries with impending elections are wondering at their respective fates. There is enough proof that a core campaign manager of Donald Trump changed the “culture of America” to win the Presidency. What comes out now is that ‘psychographical’ profiles were analysed and targeted to create the Trump euphoria, particularly in states where his win was totally unassured.

How on earth does all this happen and can I be a victim, is what everybody is asking today. Can artificial intelligence of a kind overpower someone’s personal intelligence? Present facts show it can and it works in a much more sophisticated manner than advertising techniques that make us dumb, compulsive consumers.

App developers take permission to use the data of Facebook. In this case, it was Alexsandar Kogan, who had developed a personality test quiz. One initial survey led to 300 FB users ‘logging in’. Little did they know that their ‘I Agree’ immediately led Kogan to a database of nearly 100,000 people. It was a matter of time before he could similarly access a huge database across the world.

Kogan was not supposed to share this data – but he did, with Cambridge Analytica (CA), in the United Kingdom. The job of CA is to build online political campaigns and reach out to potential voters by combining online data with various other sources.

It is believed that CA has its eye on South Asian countries, where elections are due like in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. This makes matters serious for Facebook that has to contend with other election scenarios. It is also of grave concern for governments, like of India, who find that opposition parties are clients of CA.

With 240 million active users, Facebook’s largest footprint is in India. There was, therefore, reason enough for the government to question Facebook and threaten to summon Mark Zuckerberg. Before responding to the Government of India, he immediately felt pressured to go public with an interview. One of the things he said was: When he developed Facebook in his dorm back in 2004, he never imagined he would be at a place where he was now…grappling with governments about data breach of millions of users.

The Government of India asked Zuckerberg if data has been used to manipulate the election process in India (various state elections have been taking place across the country). Meanwhile, there were two simultaneous developments in the parallel.

Top Indian advertisers are grilling Facebook, which is a fine case of the pot calling the kettle black. Even as advertisers continue to dupe consumers in multifarious ways, they are now concerned about consumer protection on Facebook. That consumer base is precious to them, because digital advertising in India is expected to have a growth rate of 35% by 2020.

In another development, the Election Commission of India first stated that they will set up a committee to review its partnership with Facebook. Within days, the Election Commission decided it will continue its partnership for the soon-to-take-place critical election in the south Indian state of Karnataka. As per the Commission, the recent fiasco of data breach is a mere ‘aberration’.

That may sound shocking at first. Then, one is faced with an interesting revelation. In the recent data breach, India accounts for 0.6% of the global number of potentially affected users. A meagre number in context of the numbers that vote, including rural populations, many of who are still on the other side of the digital divide.

In the official response to Government of India, Facebook claims 335 users clicked onto Kogan’s ‘thisismydigitallife’ app and about half a million users were compromised as a result. In a concurrent conference call, Zuckerberg states that Facebook is now enhancing its security features. “This is going to be a big year for elections ahead with the US midterms and elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Hungary and others. This is going to be a major focus for us. We now have about 15,000 people working on security and content review and we’ll have more than 20,000 by the end of this year.” A further announcement stated that political ads will not be allowed on its platform until the advertiser’s identity is verified by Facebook.

Well said, Zuckerberg. All in all, we are talking democracy worldwide, being in the hands of a 33 year-old technology wizard, whose platform holds the innards of Facebook users in their algorithmic vaults.

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