Data brouhaha

Sun.Star Pampanga - - OPINOIOPNINION -

MY NIECES and neph­ews even­tu­ally had a good free­lance ca­reer. For many years now, one of their foreign clients trusted them of an out­sourced job on­line - pro­files mon­i­tor­ing.

So what they just do is that run this ap­pli­ca­tion in­tro­duced by their client, and they can see even­tu­ally all users who signed up for this dat­ing so­cial net­work­ing plat­form. The task is sim­ple: scan through the pho­tos of the users and see if there are themes or con­tents that vi­o­lated the so­cial net­work plat­form’s com­mu­nity stan­dards. On this case, should they see raunchy im­ages to the point it is porno­graphic or sex­u­ally ex­plicit, they re­port it. And at some ex­tent, they can re­move the pho­tos or block the users in ques­tion.

It was quite en­vi­ous, they just look at the screen with dif­fer­ent pho­tos of ran­dom peo­ple who up­loaded in their pro­files, while at the same time do a side­line gig by play­ing DOTA-2 on the other screen, and at the end of the day, they would earn three to four times higher than an or­di­nary cor­po­rate em­ployee. There was a time that the task be­came so vo­lu­mi­nous, even my 76-year-old fa­ther is be­ing paid to mon­i­tor for four hours a day, and the pay­check is still higher than fast­food chain man­ager.

So when the news broke out about how Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica “har­vested” mas­sive data from Face­book and how it al­legedly con­trolled the vot­ing pref­er­ences of Amer­i­cans that led to the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, some peo­ple went gaga. But for me, I can’t help but chuckle of their naive re­ac­tions.

And since some of us are so enamored with any­thing foreign, es­pe­cially the United States, some re­ports in­sin­u­ated that the data min­ing firm might also had a hand in the Philip­pine elec­tions that also led to the vic­tory of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Dutere.

The me­dia was hys­ter­i­cal about it, telling us that we are not safe when we surf the in­ter­net and use our so­cial me­dia ac­counts. More so, when a re­port sug­gested that Face­book and Google look up on our pri­vate mes­sages and store them for pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions of their com­mu­nity stan­dards. That means, they would know who you are, your in­ter­ests, your ad­dresses and other in­for­ma­tion about you from your pref­er­ences to your life­style habits.

This whole sce­nario is quite amus­ing, to be frank, be­cause for one, the me­dia por­trayed this whole “mas­sive” data breach like it’s the blun­der of the cen­tury with an alarmist tone that we may not be safe at all from any en­ti­ties that will ex­pose our right to pri­vacy (be­cause, in­deed it is se­ri­ous).

But to be sure, and to be clear: every­one should al­ways be aware and lit­er­ate enough when it comes to how mod­ern tech­nol­ogy like surf­ing the in­ter­net and en­gage in so­cial me­dia.

How­ever, I wish to con­vey an un­com­fort­able re­al­ity: what­ever so­cial me­dia en­ti­ties - be it Face­book, Twit­ter, Youtube, etc. and what­ever ac­tiv­i­ties you en­gage in the In­ter­net - from ap­pli­ca­tions or soft­wares you used there is no guar­an­tee that these en­ti­ties will not use your pri­vate in­for­ma­tion.

What­ever we do, we leave dig­i­tal foot­prints, and the no­tion of “safe and se­cure” be­ing promised by what­ever on­line en­ti­ties, is only a hal­lu­ci­na­tion. Why do you think that banks now is­sue “cash cards” so that you will use it in­stead of your ac­tual credit or debit cards when shop­ping on­line? Re­mem­ber when you sign up to be­come a mem­ber of a so­cial me­dia site? Or in­stall an ap­pli­ca­tion? Most of them sug­gested to read “User Agree­ments” or “Com­mu­nity Stan­dards” or what­ever le­gal terms they use. The prob­lem is, we don’t read it, be­cause other than we have no time, it’s too lengthy that it’s prob­a­bly the same read­ing time spent for short nov­els.

The bot­tom­line here is that, the In­ter­net (and now your smart­phones) is the least place you can trust your pri­vacy with, but to­day In­ter­net is es­sen­tial in al­most what­ever things we do. But then again, it is us, the users, have to set pa­ram­e­ters on how will­ing we are to share our in­for­ma­tion on­line. And what­ever in­for­ma­tion we en­code to the sys­tem, ex­pect that there is a pos­si­bil­ity that it can be ex­tracted by in­di­vid­u­als, or cor­po­ra­tions like Face­book and Google, or even Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica.

That is why in my case, I see to it that I would only share lit­tle to no in­for­ma­tion at all. If a site is ask­ing for ad­dress, I give them a false lo­ca­tion; or if they ask phone num­bers or bank de­tails, I hand out in­cor­rect one. Be­cause at the end of the day, we are re­spon­si­ble to the in­for­ma­tion we share to the world.

But this does not mean that en­ter­pris­ing on­line en­ti­ties al­ready have a com­plete con­trol in ac­cess­ing our pri­vacy. There are still thin lines on how it is done and laws on pri­vacy and se­cu­rity should still pre­vail.

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