Facebook Data DebacleThe recent Facebook data breach has brought with it many questions about whether people will want, or be able to keep much more of their digital lives private.

Facebook users have known for years that their data makes up the bulk of the goods that the social media company leverages for profit. So, when it was reported that London based data firm, Cambridge Analytica had accessed an estimated 87 million Facebook profiles without permission and then used this data for political campaigning, the public was understandably unimpressed by this.

Since this breach occurred, there has been a flurry of articles published about how to delete Facebook and further protect your personal data. Online privacy and human behaviour experts have claimed that because of this, people’s expectations of privacy may no longer be the same.

Sharing Information Online

One of the biggest questions this breach has brought up is whether people will be less willing to share information online. George Loewenstein, Behavioural Economist of Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh believes that this won’t be an issue due to there already being a string of high-profile data breaches, of which most people haven’t suffered severe personal consequences from them. He thinks the previous episodes have created a kind of, boy who cried wolf effect saying, “I don’t think we’re suddenly going to reach a level of data breaches where people are going to hit their limit – quite the opposite”.

Laura Brandimarte, management information systems researcher at the University of Arizona in Tucson suggests that people may become more cautious about the information that they share. She refers to a study in 2017 of search engine queries before and after whistle-blower, Edward Snowden revealed government surveillance programs in 2013. After the surveillance revelations, the researchers saw fewer uses of sensitive search terms. Because of this Brandimarte believes that people will now censor themselves similarly on social media.

Tracking Data

Another question that presents itself is whether people can find out who is using their data and how. Brandimarte explains how information can be difficult to track once it’s been released, she commented, “There’s a million companies that share data about us without us being aware of it.”

Data-sharing practises are usually hidden away in convoluted privacy policies which make them long and difficult to read for the average internet user. Privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon commented “A privacy policy often has a statement such as, ‘We may share some of your information with third parties.’… There’s no truly actionable information that really tells individuals what exactly is being collected, who it is being shared with [or] what are the possible consequences.”

The policies put into place usually aren’t even read, with 62% of people believing that the existence of a privacy policy means a site cannot share user data without permission according to a report in 2014.

Control of Online Privacy

When it comes to control over their online privacy people almost don’t stand a chance. Even if someone follows all expert advice on what not to post meticulously, they still don’t have control over what others might post about them.

Many deductions about a personal profile and regular contacts can be made from the digital footprint a person leaves. A connection that can be analysed by your ISP provider or even Google can be shown even from encrypted emails. Basically, no amount of technology can completely shield your information.

When changes are made to a policy, it can go on to upset people’s privacy controls. Back in late 2009 Facebook changed its settings which saw some previously private information become public by default. People didn’t realise that this new setting publicly revealed some of the information they thought was private, meaning there was a sudden boost in publicly available information.

How People Can Gain More Privacy Control

On their own, people can’t actually do a lot to make a difference, even altering your privacy settings or getting off Facebook altogether won’t do a lot. For real change, government intervention is needed, and this is where the GDPR comes in for European users. This regulation comes into effect May 25th and will bring with it stricter controls, limiting tech companies to gather the minimum amount of user data required to provide a specific service. Eventually, these controls may expand to worldwide usage.

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