Big Data could be big trouble for users’ privacy

By Morgan Hanson
Opinions Editor

Illustration by Jacqueline Arredondo

“The scrapers were at it long enough,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, said, according to ABC News. “At some point during the last several years, someone has probably accessed your public information this way.”

Every time a user makes a post, uploads a photo or presses a like button, Facebook keeps a record of it. Facebook processes over 500 terabytes of data every day, according to techcrunch.com, a technology news website, and it is all stored in Facebook’s databases. An individual may not remember everything they have posted on the platform, but Facebook never forgets – unless they request to delete their account information.

Facebook has been embroiled in a scandal after Cambridge Analytica scraped the data of 87 million Facebook users, according to New Scientist, a publication focusing on science and technology. Cambridge Analytica is a data firm that uses data to change audience behavior, according to its website. Data scraping, or web scraping, is the process of downloading information from a website to a file on a computer, according to targetinternet.com, a digital marketing website. 

After news of Facebook’s data leak broke, some people were upset and blamed Facebook for the situation. In an interview with threatpost.com, a cyber security news website, Gennie Gebhart, a researcher for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “The real problem is that Facebook is collecting, storing and building very efficient infrastructure to allow others to find an unprecedented amount of user data.” The EFF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to privacy and civil liberties in the digital world, according to its website. “It is scary,” Austin Estrada, a Brookhaven College student, said. “These people having all this information, [it is an] invasion of privacy if you ask me.”

Jennifer Salinas, a student, said: “Everything you do or say on social media is gonna be public. I hate it. I can tell you that. But it is not a surprise.”

Charles Cadenhead, computer information technology professor, said: “Either you are paying for a commodity, or you are the commodity. Why is Facebook worth so many millions of dollars and not charging anything? Well, they are making it off of us.”

Facebook reported sales of $17.9 billion, and a profit of $3.7 billion for the year 2015, according to CNN.  One in five dollars spent on online advertising goes to Facebook, according to The New York Times. Facebook makes money by profiling its users so advertisement companies can market to specific demographics, according to The New York Times.

Cambridge Analytica used data to psychologically profile Facebook users, so advertisements could be tailored, not merely to demographic, but to personality type, according to BBC. Big Data refers to extremely large data sets. Cambridge Analytica initially gained access to the data of more than 200,000 Facebook users with a mobile app. They used a now closed loophole in Facebook’s Search and Account Recovery section to expand their access to more than 87 million users’ data, according to BBC.

Big Data is big business.

The worldwide revenue for the Big Data industry was over $130 billion in 2016, according to the International Data Corporation, a global market intelligence firm. That figure is projected to grow to more than $203 billion by 2020. Nearly every industry participates in data analytics on some level, according to Forbes. Target made headlines by predicting a teen girl was pregnant before her immediate family knew, based on her purchases, according to Forbes. 

 “We need to be good stewards of our data,” Cadenhead said. “It is valuable. It should be worth something to us.”

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