BIG DATA – BIG Privacy ISSUE

Goda, October 8.

From the previous posts, a big data has been characterised as a fuel that drives the next industrial revolution into every aspect of economic and social life. Moreover, it was highlighted that handling of data is a central and the main component in the context of creating trust online (Spratt & Baker, 2016).

While in developing countries social, economic and financial activities moved into a virtual space, huge amounts of information, including personal data also, have been transmitted, stored and collected globally.

Thus, one of the main issues moving activities online is that present regulatory environment on the protection of data is far from ideal. Many social and cultural norms around the world include a respect for privacy – some protect privacy as a fundamental right while others include the individual privacy in constitutional doctrines or similar documents. Nevertheless, there are certain countries that are still in process of adopting this rule (UNCTAD, 2016).

Today personal data are the fuel which drives more commercial activities online. However, the relevance of data protection and the need for controlling privacy is inevitable and increasingly important not only in global economy and international trade but in social media also (UNCTAD, 2016). From publicly available data in social media platforms, it is so easy to find everyone’s interests, political or religious views, shopping habits and etc. I believe that most people would feel really uncomfortable knowing that someone knows that much about them.

So, everything can be tracked and controlled by the information generated by online activities and it has become a concern to global data protection, privacy, security and trust.

How is Facebook using Big Data?

Facebook, as the world’s most popular social media network, is sometimes called a massive data wonderland. It has been estimated that there will be more than 169 million Facebook users only in the United States by 2018. “Facebook is the fifth most valuable public company in the world, with a market value of approximately $321 billion” (Monnappa, 2017).

Every day and every second numerous amount of photos and comments are uploaded, posted, liked and shared on Facebook. At first, this information doesn’t seem very meaningful but considering the fact that this giant social networking platform knows who peoples’ friends are, what they look like, where they are, what they are doing, some researchers say Facebook has enough of data to know people better than their therapists. Moreover, as it was mentioned before, for the same reason it has been widely used for many political activities also.

”Apart from Google, Facebook is probably the only company that possesses this high level of detailed customer information” (Monnappa, 2017). Facebook has always guaranteed its users that all the details are being shared only with their permission. Nevertheless, there have always been serious privacy concerns among these users. For example, many of them complain that Facebook’s privacy settings are not clearly explained or they are too complex. Also, it is easy for people to share things unintentionally.

privacy issue

Furthermore, there have been several cases in the United States and the UK, such as a Schrems v Facebook, initiated by consumers and civil liberties organizations to challenge the extent of the surveillance. One important results of the case were the renegotiation of the Safe harbour agreement (now called as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield) which includes a commitment to stronger enforcement and monitoring of privacy and data protection (UNCTAD, 2016).

Moreover, a couple of years ago Belgium privacy commission took Facebook to the court over alleged privacy breaches and users tracking online. According to the report on which the commission was acting, Facebook was tracking users on a long-term basis who visit any page (Gibbs, 2017). The outcome of the case – 28 EU Member States prepared a draft of European law in relation to privacy that would improve the same national regulators’ powers over the companies like Facebook (Schechner and Drozdiak, 2015).

It’s no secret that data privacy is a huge concern for companies that deal with big data. With the help of the new technologies, someone knows more about people than they know about themselves which is frightening. One of the consequences – the majority of people have become slaves to data and have been terrified of social media.

Therefore, not only the countries, societies or companies but people themselves also need to take a great responsibility for their actions. Computers are amazing tools but many people have forgotten that they should use them just like tools. We don’t need to forget the best computer ever created is our brain.

 

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4 comments

  1. A very interesting post about big data and privacy! Looks like R. Kirkpatrick is right when saying that developing countries do have the right to privacy, just like having access to food, water and humanitarian response… And as Linnet Taylor argues, his “statement implies that development agencies have a claim to people’s data on a utilitarian basis, and that opting out should not be an option because it will impact on the rights of the collective” (Taylor 2017, p. 9).

    I think you’re absolutely right when saying that many “would feel really uncomfortable knowing that someone knows that much about them”.

    In fact, looks like the issue is more serious than we think. I would like to add that, from a feminist perspective, collecting and storing data related to the intersections between gender and technology can lead to important decisions that are biased and not neutral at all.

    As technology is created by humans, in my opinion, cases where human beings become victims of unoptimized and ‘biased’ algorithms (or even worst – victims of biased decisions by humans!) will become even more frequent in the future.

    The way data is interpreted is very important and it is crucial that its interpretation remains at least neutral if not positive for everyone.

    Having said that, you may find interesting my first post called Big Data and Its Impact on International Development where I write about big data and privacy, too. In that post I also cover some of the negative impacts of big data such as buying and selling user data or even using data in favor of the digital divide.

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

    • Hi Dragomir,

      I’m very glad you have enjoyed reading my post and thank you for such a nice feedback and additional comments. The more I read, the more I learn 🙂

      Goda

  2. Hi Goda,
    Great post on this subject. Actually earlier today I found an article very related to this in my Twitter feed, by the Guardian. It wasn’t all that constructive but the discussion on how Facebook stores and uses data for its’ own benefit is very relevant.

    “Facebook, like Google, is an extractive company, rather like ExxonMobil or Glencore. It “mines”, refines, aggregates and sells its users’ personal information and data trails to advertisers, who then use it to target ads at said users. This data is clearly valuable. At the moment, for example, the company earns nearly $20 per user per year (in the US and Canada, anyway) by monetising their data. The downside – from society’s point of view – is that the targeted system that delivers these revenues is easily manipulated by political actors – as we saw from the way Russian interests used it in the 2016 election.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/08/facebook-zuckerberg-in-a-hole-data-mining-business-model

    This shows how market driven even social media is, even though we want to think about it as open and democratic in some ways at least. As it has been demonstrated that data is highly unjust as it deepens social injustices and marginalization (Unwin, Tim 2017) of already disadvantaged people we could rather argue that Facebook is diluting democracy and privacy. The question is now, what to do about it? Any suggestions Goda?
    If you have some time please have look at our blog on #NewMediaActivism 🙂 http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict172group5/

    /Julia

    • Thanks, Julia, for your recent comment.

      I agree with you. In certain ways privacy has become almost impossible on Facebook due to one simple previously stated reason – Facebook is as huge as Google and it is a company that earns billions from advertising also.

      In terms of democracy, I think that this problem can be discussed in the context of the privacy too. However, when users agree on terms and conditions during the on-boarding process, there is not enough of evidence to declare that Facebook stifles the democracy.

      Nevertheless, we could discuss more about the issues of democracy if we focus on election campaigns on Facebook and how Facebook manipulates people by spreading fake news.

      Therefore, as I have mentioned in my concluding part of this post, we should not forget to use the main and the best computer ever created – our brains. Second option we could definitely do is delete our Facebook account.

      Goda