We help you decide, how to think ‘freely’!
This should be the motto of every user targeting site that claims to ‘enhance’ user experience while keeping the user in complete dark. It’s not new that a tech firm has been in scrutiny for playing with the user data, and frankly speaking, this is not surprising.
For those of you who still aren’t aware of what has happened, well, your data is at risk. A data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica has been called upon for using user data to manipulate the user into thinking in a specific direction unknowingly. That’s impossible, some of you may argue. Well, not if the firm had access to your and your friends’ facebook profiles! This indeed was a shocker for me too. The worst mistake that a firm can make is to compromise user data, specially in the cases where user’s trust solely governs the success of the platform. From what I’ve understood, this analytics firm used facebook data to target thought centric ads to influence users into thinking in a direction they wanted. Why did facebook provide them with the data, you may ask. Well, it didn’t really. The data was meant to be used for research purpose only, while in reality the data was unknowingly used to target ads to the users. The algorithm in use could crawl your profile, and your friends profile, had you not activated the enhanced security features provided by facebook. This means, that the profiles of few thousands of users would provide access to the profiles of millions of users. It’s being said in an interview with the director of research at cambridge analytica that around 50 millions profiles were pulled in a matter of a few months. Facebook has suspended cambridge analytica, for obvious reasons. But this leaves me puzzled with the question, how responsible are we when it comes to our own data?
No doubt protecting users’ data is an organisation’s utmost responsibility. While signing up for a service I expect my data to be limited only to me, and no one else, not even the service provider! But is that it? Does that mean that one can be carefree about what is his/her data being used for and by whom? I’ve never seen someone think cautiously while registering for a service, nope, never! I’m rather thought of differently for thinking hard before signing up for a service, not using google as my primary search engine or not being on a social media platform like facebook anymore. It’s actually hard to realise an existence without user customised requirement, but it’s not impossible. Imagine searching for a query and only seeing sites that you are normally used to. ‘Search preferences’ as well call it. But what about the unbiased results that could provide you with some extra knowledge that you are not used to seeing at all just because your search was customised only for you. How about opening up to a Quora feed that’s completely different from the usual one, unaltered, untouched by your past searches/upvotes/downvotes? How about discovering places on your own rather than a news feed informing what’s good near you and what you should be doing while you’re in a particular place? Enhancing user experience is completely fine. I vouch for that. But there’s a huge difference between enhanced user experience and a dependent user experience. Just with a matter of some ads, an organisation might have manipulated the way you think, your psychology, your decision making! Just with the help of the data provided by your own self, you might have chosen what you never wanted to choose!
Facebook realised the issue in 2015 and did what an organisation could do in a legal capacity. It asked Cambridge Analytica to legally certify that it had deleted all of the users data, only to realise in 2018 that it hadn’t. I’m a developer myself, and I know how important it is for any organisation to keep the user data as secure as possible. But at the same time as a user, I need to be vary of what permissions an app is requesting to. The whole mess created by Cambridge Analytica is the result of data gathered by a facebook app, developed by a man called Kogen. Ironically, the app was a personality quiz app. I’m not aware what permissions the app might have requested, but I’m certainly sure that a majority of the users would have blatantly ignored those permissions. As a result the user profiles of not just the user, but all his friends were put in a vulnerable point. It’s a weird world we live in where a social media site is held responsible for determining a country’s electoral results, and unfortunately, it’s true. Zuckerberg in an interview says, had you told me in 2004 that facebook is going to govern the result of a country’s election, I would not have believed you! I’m not supporting facebook here, I myself don’t use it, having realised the importance of user privacy and the illusion it creates around you. But at the same time I’m concerned about the future, a future where technology determines human behaviour, and not the opposite. Trending a simple hashtag on social media or deactivating an account on a website isn’t going to bring much of a change. You’re the owner of your privacy, don’t let your data own you! After all, ‘it’s a free world we all are living in’!