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This fort­night’s top tech news sto­ries

What hap­pened?

There have been plenty of data pri­vacy scan­dals in re­cent years, but none quite like this: a pink-haired whistle­blower, a Rus­sian aca­demic and claims of elec­tion fix­ing have made head­lines across the world – and Face­book is at the cen­tre of it all.

Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica is a cam­paign con­sul­tancy that spe­cialises in us­ing data to in­flu­ence vot­ers. Data sci­ence has le­git­i­mate ap­pli­ca­tions in elec­tion cam­paigns, but Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica is ac­cused of il­le­gally har­vest­ing data from Face­book users to tar­get in­di­vid­u­als with per­son­alised po­lit­i­cal mes­sages while hid­ing its al­le­giance, thus cre­at­ing – as whistle­blower and for­mer CA staffer Chris Wi­ley put it – a “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare tool”.

Face­book was made aware of the ‘breach’ back in 2015, but re­ports sug­gest it merely sent a let­ter to Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica re­quir­ing noth­ing more than a ticked box as con­fir­ma­tion that the com­pany had wiped the data. Even more wor­ry­ing is how the data was ob­tained in the first place: Face­book not only al­lowed third-party app de­vel­op­ers to ac­cess user data, but also per­mit­ted them to mine the pro­files of users’ friends, mean­ing around 50 mil­lion peo­ple were af­fected by the breach.

In the most high-pro­file ex­am­ple, Face­book users were paid to in­stall and com­plete a per­son­al­ity quiz cre­ated by Rus­sian aca­demic Alek­sandr Ko­gan, which se­cretly col­lected data about their friends in the back­ground. Ko­gan gave the data to Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, break­ing UK data-pro­tec­tion rules and Face­book’s own terms. Face­book CEO and founder Mark Zucker­berg took five days to apol­o­gise and prom­ise that Face­book will limit the data third-party apps can ac­cess in fu­ture.

That may be too lit­tle, too late for many Face­book users, as a #Deleteface­book cam­paign took off on­line. How ef­fec­tive it will prove re­mains to be seen, but in­vestors have taken note, wip­ing tens of bil­lions of dol­lars from Face­book’s mar­ket value.

How will it af­fect you?

If Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica’s at­tempts to in­flu­ence Face­book users have been as suc­cess­ful as it claims in its mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial and in the hid­den-cam­era videos ob­tained by the Ob­server, the com­pany po­ten­tially put Donald Trump in The White House and in­flu­enced UK vot­ers to opt for Brexit. How­ever, this is nigh on im­pos­si­ble to prove, and Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica denies work­ing on the EU ref­er­en­dum.

In re­sponse, one US aca­demic has filed a re­quest ask­ing Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica whether his data was used. But, more broadly, the ris­ing pres­sure against Face­book means reg­u­la­tors on both sides of the At­lantic may fi­nally take ac­tion.

If you’ve had enough of Face­book’s de­vi­ous data deal­ings and want to jump on the #Deleteface­book band­wagon, here’s how to do it. First, down­load all your data, so you don’t lose all your pre­cious pho­tos and mem­o­ries. To do this, go to Set­tings, Gen­eral Ac­count Set­tings, then ‘ Down­load a copy of your Face­book data’. The down­load will take a while to pre­pare, so wait un­til you re­ceive the no­ti­fi­ca­tion, then down­load the data.

You can ei­ther ‘de­ac­ti­vate’ your ac­count – which al­lows you to re­ac­ti­vate it later – or delete it com­pletely. The set­ting to de­ac­ti­vate is un­der Gen­eral Ac­count Set­tings, while dele­tion has a ded­i­cated page at bit.ly/fb­delete446. Once you have clicked that but­ton, stay away from the site – if you re­visit within a few months of dele­tion, your ac­count will au­to­mat­i­cally be re­ac­ti­vated.

What do we think?

Con­sider this a les­son learned: all those warn­ings from pri­vacy cam­paign­ers about the dan­gers of so­cial me­dia are true. We can heed the call to delete Face­book, and learn to pro­tect our own pri­vacy bet­ter on­line, but it’s clear that the power in this re­la­tion­ship doesn’t fall on our side. For that rea­son, it’s high time reg­u­la­tors stepped in – but what can they do when sell­ing our data is how Face­book makes its money?

Those of us who love the web still be­lieve that it can help build a bet­ter world, but it’s only through par­tic­i­pa­tion and dis­cus­sion – and learn­ing from mis­takes – that we can help to make this hap­pen.

What hap­pened?

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor Of­com has started auc­tion­ing the 5G spec­trum in the UK – although we won’t know which com­pa­nies have won a slice for their nextgen­er­a­tion net­works for sev­eral weeks. The five bid­ders are EE, 3G, Tele­fon­ica, Voda­fone and new­comer Airspace Spec­trum Hold­ings.

Of­com is sell­ing 190MHZ of spec­trum in two bands, 150MHZ of which is in the 3.4GHZ band, which has been set aside for 5G ser­vices. The reg­u­la­tor has set an over­all £70m re­serve price, and while that’s likely to climb with each bid, the reg­u­la­tor stresses that ef­fi­cient use of spec­trum is more im­por­tant than the fi­nan­cial value of the auc­tion. What­ever the auc­tion raises, it won’t come near the £22.5bn op­er­a­tors shelled out for 3G spec­trum 20 years ago.

How will it af­fect you?

The re­lease of more spec­trum for ex­ist­ing ser­vices will help ease con­ges­tion for mo­bile broad­band, Of­com says, while the 3.4GHZ band will let op­er­a­tors set up the first 5G ser­vices. That could mean any­thing from faster broad­band on our smart­phones to ‘ In­ter­net of Things’-style net­works that link sen­sors in ev­ery­thing from traf­fic lights to park­ing bays and more.

Op­er­a­tors don’t need to buy spec­trum in this auc­tion to run 5G, how­ever – plenty of them al­ready own bands that can work for nextgen­er­a­tion net­works.

What do we think?

More spec­trum is al­ways a good thing for con­sumers, be­cause it means more band­width and faster in­ter­net speeds. The trick for Of­com is to en­sure the added ca­pac­ity goes to the right op­er­a­tors. This is al­ready a mat­ter for dis­pute, as EE and Three are tak­ing le­gal ac­tion over the reg­u­la­tor’s lim­its on how much spec­trum any one com­pany can own. Providers un­happy with the re­sults of this auc­tion will have a sec­ond chance to ex­pand their ca­pac­ity in 2019, when the 700MHZ band is auc­tioned.

If you’ve had enough of Face­book in­vad­ing your pri­vacy, down­load your data and delete your ac­count

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