Nothing's Ever Truly Safe Online

Illustration By Andrew Khanian

Illustration By Andrew Khanian

On March 17, Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm based in the United Kingdom, came under fire after it was discovered that the firm had taken the personal information of over 50 million Facebook users to influence the 2016 U.S election.

Naturally, people were furious upon knowing this, causing the hashtag #DeleteFacebook to go viral, urging others to leave Facebook and delete their accounts. However, what people don’t realize is that their data has always been at risk, and has been used to make large amounts of money both legally and illegally.

The whole situation has been somewhat overblown thanks to our current political climate, and there are some things to clear up. First off, the information taken was about who you were, what you liked, and what kinds of sites you visited frequently. Secondly, the reason why Facebook allowed such a thing to even happen, and why they took this long to take any kind of action, was because this was business as usual.

Your thoughts may be confused. “Business as usual?" To answer that, we need to answer another question: How does a website like Facebook make money? A website that provides the ability to socialize with anyone anywhere for free can’t just sustain itself with people interacting with the site, even if there are millions of people on the site. The solution is that Facebook sells your data to advertisers.

Facebook's CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, claims it is the companies' “responsibility to protect your data,” and they willingly sell that “protected” data to advertisers. To be fair, Facebook never sells personal data that specifically identifies anyone. The information may be anonymous, but your movements, your behaviors, your likes and dislikes, and everything you do on Facebook is tracked and sold off. The same kind of nonsense we don’t want the government to do, but Facebook does and makes money off it.

Nevertheless, Cambridge Analytica isn’t an advertising company, and even then, the data they obtained isn’t what Facebook would’ve provided. So, what’s going on there? To put it short, a researcher at Cambridge University created an app that allowed him to obtain personal information via an online quiz which, when accessed, allowed them to get data from quiz takers and their friends. But maybe this is an isolated incident, our information is safe all the time, right?

Nope, we’ve always been at risk since the internet exploded in usage, and there have been plenty of hacks and data breaches, with some affecting a few dozen people to billions of people. In 2013, Yahoo had over one billion of user accounts hacked and information stolen, which has since been used for various illegal activities. In 2016, Uber had 57 million accounts hacked. In 2013, Target had 110 million accounts compromised, and the list goes on. The point is that hackers are going to find ways to access your account, and the security of these companies may not be able to stop them.

So, what can you do? To be brutally honest, there’s not a lot. You can add more security to your online accounts by making more complex codes, add more security checks, pretty much add every single kind of security setting they offer, but in this digital age, hackers find ways around it all. The best advice anyone can offer is to simply be extremely cautious about what kind of information you share online and to who you share the information with. Cambridge Analytica was simply another reminder to how easy it is to steal online information.