Last weekend, a message, “Heads-up!! Almost every account is being cloned. Your picture and name are being used to create new Facebook accounts” went viral on social media platforms, especially Facebook. A lot of people went on to update their statuses saying that their account has been hacked, but that is as far they went.
Profile cloning has been an issue for the social networking service company which says it is working to make cloning more difficult. It is less an issue, however, compared to hacking, illegal data collection and outright sale of personal information to a third party which has been the case with two major technology giants, Facebook and Google, as personal data of millions of people on the two platforms were accessible to third-party organisations. Both services collate data from web users without them even knowing; Google tracks people across the web using Google Analytics while Facebook, on the other hand, uses ‘Like’ and ‘love’ button to collect information of users on its platform.
In March this year, the personal data of up to 87 million users were obtained by an analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica. The company hired a researcher, Aleksandr Kogan in 2014 to gather the information of Facebook users based on their preferences using the pages and things they like. With the permission of Facebook, Kogan, through his application called ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ was able to gather the information of users.
On Monday, 8 October 2018, Google also admitted that about 500,000 people who use its social networking service, Google+, may have had their data illegally shared by about 438 outsider developers without their consent. Although the illegal harvesting and sharing of data were discovered in March, it was only uncovered in October when Google announced that it will discontinue the messaging service.
With names of the two global technology giants being tainted by security breaches, people are increasingly losing trust in their services but that, however, has not stopped people from logging on to their platforms, using their services or uploading their personal information to their social media profiles or the web.
In April, Google’s mailing service, Gmail, added additional features centred around security and confidentiality to its offerings. After notifying users whose data were shared, the company began sending a notification titled ‘Protecting Your Information’ to their 2.2 billion users.
Since 2006, Facebook has promised to protect users’ data by redesigning and putting privacy controls front. However, despite the numerous assurances of privacy safeguards promised by Facebook, the company has continued sharing people’s information. Facebook delivers a very different narrative to the social media users than it does to marketers; Facebook presents itself to the public as a social network but when addressing the advertising industry, it is very clear that it is a surveillance system that you can also use to target your audience and persuade them to buy your product.
“Don’t be evil” which was Google’s mantra for nearly two decades may have applied to a select few because the government of the United States of America has access to every communication on Google’s servers and the country’s National Security Agency will use the information at will if need be.
Facebook and Google are not alone in the breaking of promises relating to data sharing, they have just been caught. And given their popularity, influence and their wider reach, the fuss and impact are greater, even though its users continue to use their services.
For Google, it has taken a bold step to shut down its ailing messaging service which was meant to be a competition for Facebook but never got up to par. However, the data breach would still not stop people from using Google or Gmail or its other services.
A survey by HubSpot showed that hacking, cloning, sharing of private information or any kind of security breach cannot pull people away from the technology giants. 60 percent of the people surveyed said that the breach has not caused them to stop using Facebook or delete their accounts and it may never do. This is either because they do not fully comprehend the breach, do not think the impact is severe, cannot imagine the relevance of information to third parties or they simply do not just care.
Some people noted that the reason they cannot leave these platforms, despite the possibilities that their information may be in the wrong hands, are because the platforms are addictive and help them connect with the wider world. According to Joel Ogbonna, “How many can you delete? Deleting it does not mean they do not already have access to the information. We are in the internet age and if you put your private information on the web, one way or the other people would have access to it.”
Babatunde Fajuyi on his part noted that the Facebook and Google saga has only made him more careful of what information he puts out. “I don’t trust that my information is safe. I cannot stop using the platforms because most gaming sites or applications ask for your Facebook ID and Google is the fastest search engine I know. Besides, my job requires that I use them. The only way I can protect myself is to limit the level of private information I share.”
Currently, Google’s Android dominates the smartphone market with a share of 85.9 percent in 2017. Even on non-Android devices, Google offers its search app, Chrome, maps, and email. It has a massive audience of 187 million unique visitors on desktop alone.
For now, until the data collected illegally is misused, it is just going to be another issue that trends and later shoved under the carpet to be forgotten. The data breach may propagate tighter social media regulations and monitoring, reduction of information sharing and a switch to other competing networks but it may never stop people from using the products of these tech giants unless they are willing to avoid most of the internet entirely.