CEO's Corner

"The Great Hack" Cries for Users to Protect Their Data

Anurag Lal Anurag Lal, President and CEO of Infinite Convergence.

“Tough” is an understatement to describe the challenges Mark Zuckerberg has faced regarding user security. So far, Facebook has seen:

  • Almost 30 million users’ phone numbers and email addresses exposed
  • The company bending its privacy laws – sharing private user messages with Netflix and Spotify
  • An FTC investigation
  • The Cambridge Analytica scandal

While many Americans saw the individual headlines regarding the company’s never-ending turmoil, the continuous mishaps blended into one. Facebook was clearly having trouble, but the scalability and intensity of the Cambridge Analytica scandal – where information on nearly 87 million users was harvested without their knowledge – seemed to get lost in the mess.

Netflix’s recent documentary, “The Great Hack,” provides users a bird’s eye view of what really happened with Cambridge Analytica. Explaining the scandal step-by-step and highlighting the role that Facebook and its subsidiaries played, the film sheds light on one of society’s biggest problems today: Data Security and Privacy.

The Great Hack is a wakeup call to society, urging the world to take a deeper look at data collection policies and demand the need for new regulations.

The basics

The film explains what the Cambridge Analytica scandal was, how and why online data is collected and the role it plays in modern political warfare. It opens with New York professor David Carrol heading to Europe to retrieve the data stolen from him by Cambridge Analytica – the UK based company connected to both Brexit and the U.S. 2016 Trump campaign.

As it progresses, the film connects the dots to the threat that social media advertising and world politics have become. By the end, viewers have a basic understanding of how easily user data is being manipulated, how it is being kept from us and why big tech companies like Facebook need to take preventative security measures that actually protect their users.

Facebook’s role in the scandal

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump sought Cambridge Analytica’s help in influencing voters. Previously, the firm had been working with Ted Cruz, where the company acquired data from at least 30 million different profiles through a technique called “data skimming.” This means that the company created Facebook apps that would skim data from not only app users but any account that was friends with the person on the social platform.

No user would have suspected that a Cambridge Analytica created app was collecting information about them against their will. For example, a Facebook personality test collected data from users’ statuses, likes and even private messages. This allowed Cambridge Analytica to create a personality profile for every user in the United States.

From these profiles, the firm then zeroed in on what they called “the persuadables,” the people they believed could be convinced to vote for Trump. These users typically lived in swing states and became bombarded by pro-Trump content through a social-targeting campaign via Facebook known as Project Alamo – one that spent $1 million a day on ads alone.

Call to action: seeing users as customers

In total, Cambridge Analytica accumulated data from more than 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge. In his Congressional hearing, Zuckerberg claims he wasn’t aware of user data being breached. While this may have been the case, Congress still held Zuckerberg responsible – and rightfully so.

Although some might argue that Zuckerberg should not be held responsible because he was not aware of what was going on, that is the very point. Facebook, one of the biggest tech companies established in the world today, allowed a third party to use consumer data against them. As one of the world’s biggest tech companies, some responsibility needs to be taken.

Tech giants need to see their users as customers. As patients trust their doctors with personal health data and customers trust banks with their financial data, social media users have the right to trust networking and messaging platforms with their digital data.

Big Tech: A risk to the enterprise

One way Cambridge Analytica was able to extract data was through private messages via Facebook Messenger. Many are unaware of the fact that their conversations on that platform aren’t really “private.” Users must manually switch the settings within every individual conversation to “encrypted” in order to prevent unauthorized access.

But even that is not enough. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp, a Facebook subsidiary thought to be one of the safest messaging applications, has been hacked several times this year, resulting in spyware being installed on some users’ smartphones.

The lack of security in these companies and their mobile messaging platforms is a huge risk factor for the enterprise, one that seems to exponentially increase the risks of data hacks.

Data security today

While Cambridge Analytica no longer exists, data skimming is still our reality. Just look at FaceApp, which let users to see images of their future selves - it was created by Russian hackers.

The Great Hack is a testament to how our data is being manipulated. Even though tech giants like Facebook are on their way to implementing changes in terms of data security to prevent these types of data skimming applications, there is still a lot that must be done. In order for users and companies to truly protect sensitive information, they must do their part in putting up the first line of defense.

To start, users need to educate themselves on the basics of data skimming, how personal information is acquired and the policies, terms and conditions they agree to when creating any personal account. Once users and employees have a basic understanding of data security, it is time to look into ways that data can be shared and communicated across platforms. The key here is encryption.

It is paramount that business and users alike find a secure and encrypted enterprise messaging platform. One such platform, NetSfere provides end-to-end encryption, guaranteeing the safety of confidential information and user data being exchanged. This is the first step in protecting personal data and by doing so, users are partnering with a company and platform that prioritizes data privacy.

The future of data security

Data will likely become more valuable than oil. As its valuation increases, its extraction will extend far beyond the personal accounts of social messaging platforms.

Tech companies need to make proactive data security a top priority, especially as they try to expand into industries that also deal with sensitive information, like finance. For example, what will happen now that Facebook is rolling out Libra, a cryptocurrency?

It is hard to be sure, but if both businesses and consumers continue to use these platforms, they are voluntarily offering their personal data to be manipulated.

It’s time to get on board with data security solutions. It’s time for NetSfere. To get started, contact us today.

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