By Emmanouil Mandrakis*

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, most social media users, particularly Facebook users, are concerned for the protection of their personal data. Notably, many decided to delete their profiles, either driven by fear or by a need for reaction. A considerable amount of users seem to be indifferent for the violation of their privacy or are not aware of what is happening.

In any case, social media have proven to be useful when it comes to networking and communication. For their users to be able to enjoy these services, without facing the pertinent dangers, they must always get informed. On the other hand, social media and their access in private life must be regulated and monitored.

What happened with the Cambridge Analytica scandal

The Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light when it was disclosed that the personal data of millions of Facebook users were used for political propaganda by the social media company. It is estimated that between 2014 and today (2018), Facebook has gathered personal information by 87 millions users. It has been claimed that this information has been used on a fee for influencing the public opinion in political issues. The users did not know if and how their data were used, while most of them never granted their consent. (Kevin Roose, 2018)

This came out by a Cambridge Analytica employee, who denounced the abuse of the data. The case has been brought to justice. At this point, arises the issue of whether the law has made provision for protecting the users and preventing corporations from violating the Internet users’ privacy. Moreover, the social media users must get informed and learn which conduct might lead them to confronting similar dangers.

Facebook as an entity offered the means for the development of applications for entertainment, briefing and various others objectives, which had access to personal data, in order to be more efficient. Applications such as quizzes requested access to data, which were not actually necessary for the quiz, such as personal data of the users’ friends. In this way, these applications gained access to data of people, who never consented, just because their friends were “careless”.

Can someone get protected?

Social media users must always get informed on how they can get protected. They must be cautious regarding the information they share, particularly when they share sensitive data or even their “digital self”. To begin with, they must be aware that if they decide to share information publicly, this information will be available to everyone.

This includes corporations, which might use this data for some objective, if not for profit. For instance, for most users, the profile photo is public and clearly depicts their face. This gives the opportunity to everyone to create a huge database with name, surname and biometric characteristics for face-recognition applications. The “Likes” made by the users in pages and posts provide sufficient information for someone that has access to them to know the users’ preferences and desires.

Apart from the obvious use for marketing purposes, it must not be underestimated that the social circle of a person might criticize it based on its “likes”, something that leaves considerable ground for stereotype-making. In the following table are illustrated the steps, that anyone can follow to protect this information.

Furthermore, social media users can control with who they share other sensitive information such as posts and location. Notably, the latter is used by insurance companies in order to avoid compensations for burglaries. (Pleasance, 2015) Therefore, users must post responsibly, particularly when they choose their post to be public.

The commodities of social media

Social media have undoubtedly earned their role in everyday life. They have brought communication and networking to a new dimension, in which a person can keep in touch with another from a long distance or remain in contact with its old schoolmates much more easily than in the past. As far as corporations are concerned, it has made product promotion easier and much more targeted.

This is not necessarily negative; we should bear in mind that the marketing cost is paid by the consumer in any case. Social media constitute a source of information but also misinformation. One must always crosscheck his sources. Social media are a commodity which is taken for granted and is offered for free, with the only price paid being the users’ personal data.

Consequently, users must always check what they pay each time for the services they enjoy and decide if it is worth it. They must be hesitant when an application requests access to irrelevant information. It is normal for a weather application to ask for the user’s location, but not for access to photos or “likes”.

* Emmanouil Mandrakis is an Electrical and Computers Engineer, specializing in Nanotechnology. He works in CSEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology) in Switzerland. He is interested in current affairs and credible information. He works on new technologies issues.