Need to Know
This fortnight’s top tech news stories
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.
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