Facebook’s data scandal should be a wake-up call about our online footprint

  • Facebook is still suffering the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
  • The episode highlighted a big problem: We download apps and allow services to collect information about us without a second thought.
  • The good to come out of this Facbeook scandal is that people could get smarter about their online footprint.

Believe it or not, something good for consumers could come out of the Facebook data scandal.

To recap, a quiz app harvested 50 million Facebook profiles for data which were then sent over to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that was caught claiming it handled the digital aspects of President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

The data was collected from people without their knowledge, but Facebook said that users had their privacy settings on to allow it.

Even as someone who covers technology extensively, it was a real eye-opener seeing what information Facebook is collecting, even though we give it permission to by signing up, then checking in to a place, or uploading a picture. Like many, I have recently downloaded a file that contains the information Facebook holds about me.

And on the weekend, Ars Technica highlighted a tweet from New Zealand man Dylan McKay who posted a picture of his call history with his partner's mum that Facebook had collected. On Sunday, the social network said this was done with users' permission.

This is the problem: We download apps and allow services to collect information about us without a second thought. The good to come out of this Facbeook episode is that people get smarter about their online footprint.

Users should be checking what data services have access to. It's not just Facebook of course, other big technology firms are in the business of collecting data which is central to their business models.

The Facebook episode should be a wake-up call for people when it comes to learning about the information out there about them. And it seems to be so. An article on CNBC titled "How to download a copy of everything Facebook knows about you," which was written last week, was still one of the top read pieces on our site Monday.

But the onus is not just on users. Big tech firms need to step up. When a user is signing up for a service or downloading an app, the information being collected and how it will be used needs to be clearly stated. And it must be easy for users to change how their data is accessed.

Tech firms should also be more responsible in the way they word messages asking for consent. Often they will ask to track some information because it provides a "better experience." It may do, but the price you are paying is invaluable data that will make these firms money. It's irresponsible for tech giants to ask people for consent in this way.

Taking control of your data has never been more important. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has talked up the potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence. This is potentially scary technology that can read and use data in ways like never before. With such a prospect ahead, understanding your online life, owning your data and restricting it where necessary, should be your number one priority.

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