While accepting the Internet as a reality, we need to accept the boons and banes of the Web and learn to take things that happen in cyberspace with several grains of salt. What started as a quest for ‘social connectivity has turned into one big platform for social experiment by providing en masse access to the emotional pulse of all netizens.
The following are a few key takeaways with regards to data security from the movie “The Great Hack”.
What you do online is not private, period! Information about your activity on the web might be taken even without you realising that it has been taken. However, there is a need to understand that the activities of an individual on the web are an extension of that individual on the web, and must be respected with a corresponding right of that individual to carry out an activity in privacy. There are several activists who are currently questioning the extent of control we can exercise on our data rights.
Although what Cambridge Analytica did during Project Alamo might or might not be happening to you on a day-to-day basis, your actions are constantly monitored. That is what cookies are for. Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer, designed to hold data specific to a particular client and a website. A cookie is usually created when a new webpage is loaded. This is a convenient way to carry information regarding your sessions on the web and then store that information. Cookies are not inherently dangerous but distribution or storage of the information is what makes it a target for malicious activity or breaches.
A cookie that is particularly seen by many as a tool for invasion of privacy is the ‘tracing cookie’. Usually used by commercial websites, tracking cookies take information for third-party sites that have placed embedded advertisements on the website. Such advertisements are present on several websites and track user activity through the websites visited by individuals where such advertisements are placed. This data allows advertisers to build profiles on users without their consent or knowledge.
However, post-GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) most sites, to whom the GDPR applies, have given the choice to control the cookies back to users. All persons inside the European Union will have the right to know how their data is controlled—not just within the EU but globally. For sites that are not governed by GDPR, the incognito mode helps people to avoid cookies, and VPNs (Virtual Private Network) which are currently the ultimate privacy tools.
Technology companies can make you see the world the way they want you to. This statement might sound a little apocalyptical but is true nonetheless. This is exactly how targeted content and targeted advertisements work. They read into and map your cyber habits, and after creating your profile, try to influence your decisions. Cookies that store data are sent out for analysis and come back as targeted content.
The potential embarrassment caused by targeted content is the least of worries if you consider the case of Project Alamo, which scraped the data of people who answered certain quizzes and also went ahead to scrape data of people who were connected to the users of such quizzes without their permission. This data was then used to send targeted and/or fake news to users.
A key thing to remember while surfing the Web is that your decisions are your decisions no matter what means you have used to reach them. It is wise not to take the word of people you find online and things you find on the Web. Certain precautions like checking the source of the information, acting only on information received from verified sources, verifying information before acting on it are necessary measures while surfing the Web.
Data is more valuable than oil. With a user base of 2 billion people, WhatsApp sees an exchange of roughly 65 billion messages daily. Out of the 1.2 trillion searches yearly over Google, 15% have never been typed before.
The $100 per user compensation is given by an insurance company to 75,000 users for a data breach reinforces the thought that data is the ‘new age oil’. With an estimated 40 trillion gigabytes (or 40 zettabytes) the data economy is pegged to be worth around $3 trillion. It has also been seen that the quality of the data affects decision-making and business strategy, and can mean losses of anywhere between $9.7 billion and 14.2 billion to businesses worldwide.
Data visualisation, data analytics, or anything to do with our data is always going to be a service. It cannot be looked upon as illegal activity as laws in most countries do not have a mechanism to deal with this issue which revolves around privacy. However, the ethics of these tools are questionable as is seen in the movie, it is just a social experiment for a tech company that hardly delves into their ethics.
Organisations like the Centre for Humane Technology and Internet Freedom Foundations are working to enforce civil liberties in cyberspace. Such organisations are bringing a change in cyberspace by educating the public, supporting technologists and tech leaders, and informing policy change. They are holding Big technology companies and governments accountable for their actions.
If the claims of the Great Hack were to be believed, data analytics have been used to manipulate several people’s votes in elections and referendums. It is claimed that the technology has also been used to incite modern-day genocides. However, we are all part of this side of technology. Such incidents are possible partly because the millions that technology reaches take the word of someone from social media to form their opinions.
Hence, technology is only as dangerous as we make it.