• Tracey Twynham

The Facebook Data Scandal - How Safe Is Your Online Data?

The world of social media and personal data is once again under scrutiny as Facebook faces a serious data scandal. The British government wants to call Mark Zuckerberg to account over an alleged data breach of 50 million users' data. UK firm Cambridge Analytica is also facing awkward questions, not only about their involvement in the  Facebook data scandal but also the impact of their data mining activities and provision of personal and demographic data to the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election.



What can we learn from this? 

Data drives everything. Whether it is the car we drive, the politics we hold, the food we buy, the friends we have or the wine we drink - all these little pieces of information are personal data. Everything we do provides others with signals about who we are, tips about what we like and dislike and information on our preferences. Companies have been using this type of data for years to offer us products and solutions based on demographics, geographical area, buying behaviours, voting characteristics etc.


What is clear is that we should be more careful about the personal information we post and share online. All, apart from the very unsavvy, will have already ensured their social media privacy settings and tools are already buttoned down. The lesson we should all have learned is that when we post online less is more. Only tell or show people the  bare minimum of information. Everything you display online can be harvested and used.


When did the collection of data become unacceptable? In fact, is it unacceptable? Now, we're not trying to be facetious - it's a legitimate question. Is the collection of data for legitimate purposes wrong? The answer lies in the term legitimate purposes, in the moral code organisations work by, what use the data will be put to and whether or not the individuals know their data is being collected and what it might be used for. It's a complex situation.


Facebook is facing a crescendo of questions about how user data was harvested for political purposes. Its stock price is falling and is reputation is in freefall. It seems apparent that data was harvested without the knowledge of Facebook users and was then utilised to impact the outcome of a democratic process. Did Facebook know this was happening? Is ignorance a good enough excuse for inaction?


Data is valuable, very valuable. Data can be the key which unlocks a vast ocean of potential customers, influence and sales pipeline. The sad fact is, data has long been misused by the unscrupulous to harass and pester individuals with unsolicited marketing communications and, more worryingly, target the vulnerable.


The GDPR, coming into force on 25th May this year, seeks to address this by preventing misuse of personal data and protecting the individual. We commend this and fully support the EU's aim, especially with regard to B2C data. There's still a discussion to be had about the use of B2B data. It seems probable that marketers will be able to continue to use B2B data on the basis of legitimate interest in a product/service. Only the ePrivacy Regulation will provide clarity and this is not due to be approved until the end of 2018, with the implementation date still unknown.


Data protection is a minefield and our legislators are doing their best to protect the rights and personal information of the individual. But we are also all responsible for protecting ourselves, for ensuring we follow good online data housekeeping and that we don't divulge too much of ourselves into the ether. If you'd like advice on how to protect yourself online visit Get Safe Online, the UK’s leading source of unbiased and factual information on online safety.

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