• Megan Yates

Controlling Your Data’s Future



Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading much about the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data scandal, as I’m sure many of you have. Facebook is attempting to mend its reputation after the massive data scandal involving an estimated 87 million Facebook profiles. In the wake of the March 2018 exposé, many companies including Tesla, SpaceX and Playboy, deleted their Facebook pages. Facebook has apologised, and Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Senate and Congress last week. Zuckerberg’s performance yielded mixed reactions. He provided some concise answers but didn’t help demystify how Facebook tracks users across devices and offline.


For those who decide to continue using the platform, there is a useful guide available on The Verge (here) detailing events and reactions related to the Facebook data scandal. It also suggests what you can do about it - like using Facebook while feeding it as little data as possible,. 


This brings up significant questions around how our data are being used. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) becomes enforceable on 25 May 2018. While it applies to data protection and privacy of individuals within the European Union, we can use it to help guide our decisions around how our personal data are used.


I love new tech and trying things out and I go through a lot of phone app ‘download-test-delete or keep' cycles. Along that process I ask myself typical questions such as:


  1. does the app help me do better in my work? 

  2. is it saving or costing me time? 

  3. am I learning something new? 

  4. does it bring me joy? 

What I’ve failed to include are fundamentals about how my personal data is used. The aim of the GDPR is to give more control to citizens over how their personal data is used. However, we shouldn’t leave it solely to regulators to ensure this. Here are a few questions we should be asking of applications, games and websites: 


  1. what data of mine are stored and tracked? 

  2. who has access to it? 

  3. if anyone is using it, for any reason whatsoever, why are they using it and does their use of it add value to my experience? 

  4. does the app allow me to easily control my personal data and how it’s used?

During the hearings, Zuckerberg made out that Facebook users control their data. Pre-scandal, I don’t believe Facebook users did control their data. Or if they did, it was very complicated and difficult to control. The data-gathering quiz app “This Is Your Digital Life” developed by Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher who allegedly made Facebook data available to Cambridge Analytica, made use of a Facebook setting in which your personal data was available to “applications, games and websites when your friends use them” - unless of course, you turned that setting off. 


But turning the setting off wasn’t straightforward. The control was found about 3/4 levels down in a privacy settings tree under “Apps” and finally “Apps others use”. “Apps others use” has since been suspended, but while it was functional, the info on the menu claimed that “The more info you share, the more social the experience”. 


Clearly, this was to encourage use of the setting. Does sharing our personal data in this way add value to our experience? I’m not convinced it does.

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