Facebook Privacy Issues and GDPR

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21st May 2019 Assignment Reference this

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Executive Summary

This report is on the subject of social media platforms. It covers popular social media platforms, social media usage statistics, the history of social media platforms, a brief outline of advantages & disadvantages of social media, the introduction of GDPR, the repercussions of failing to comply with the GDPR, data privacy issues relating to “Facebook”, the use of micro-targeting, & the use of cookies. Some conclusions and recommendations will also be drawn.

Social Media Platforms

Introduction

“Privacy is dead, & social media holds the smoking gun.” (Pete Cashmore, Mashable CEO, 2009). It is 2018, & modern Ireland & is feeling the full effect of this statement. Although made 9 years ago, this statement is very relevant in today’s society, especially with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulations in May of this year.

Popular Social Media Platforms

Humans are social creatures; we thrive on social interactions. Social media taps into these primal needs of human beings. Some of the most popular platforms which take advantage of these needs include: ‘Facebook’, ‘Instagram’, ‘YouTube’, ‘WhatsApp’, ‘Facebook Messenger’, ‘Twitter’ & ‘Snap Chat’.

Social Media Usage

With approximately 2.6 billion active users, (Statista, 2018), these sites are becoming a major influence on our contemporized world. They have become an aspect of our everyday lives, & their presence is becoming ever more prominent. In 2012, the average daily time spent on social networks by internet users worldwide was 90 minutes, & had grown to 135 minutes by 2017, (Statista, 2017). This figure has increased year on year, & is projected to continue to increase, showing a possible climbing dependency on social media platforms.

Figure 1: Number of social network users worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in billions). Source : Statista (2018)

History of Social Media Platforms

The youth of today have grown up with certain social media platforms, for example, ‘Facebook’ & ‘Snapchat’. Many of this generation do not know what it would be like to be without them. Numerous social media platforms have come & gone prior to those which are popular today.

  • 1978 saw the creation of the first social media. The, ‘Bulletin Board System’ & was used to announce meetings & to share information. This marked the beginning of virtual communities.
  • 19 years later, ‘Six Degrees’ was launched. This platform was more similar to those of today. It had the basics of allowing users to create a profile & become friends with other users. The site has been shut down since, but had approximately 1 million users at its peak. This was excellent for the time as there was very limited access to internet & computers.
  • The concept of blogging became popular in the late 1990’s, & so ‘Blogger’ & ‘LiveJournal’ were created. Users could write, publish, & share their own blogs & journals online.
  • At the start of the millennium, platforms such as, ‘Friendster’, ‘MySpace’, & ‘LinkedIn’ were launched. Different platforms were created to target different markets, for example, ‘LinkedIn’ was created for business oriented users. These platforms led to new advancements in user experiences & technology. Platforms started to resemble platforms which we are familiar with today.
  • From 2004 onwards, social media networks which are widely recognised today started being created.

(DG Traffic, 2018)

Outline of Advantages & Disadvantages of Social Media

Figure 2 : Advantages & Disadvantages of Social Media (Source : Bilal Ahmad, 2016)

Advantages Disadvantages
EducationCyberbullying  
ConnectivityHacking
Information & UpdatesAddiction
AwarenessFraud & Scams
PromotionSecurity Issues

Advantages of Social Media

  • Education – You can follow anyone to learn from him/her & enhance your knowledge about any field, without paying for it.
  • Connectivity – People from anywhere can connect with anyone. Regardless of the location & religion
  • Information & Updates – You update yourself from the latest happenings around in the world through social media.
  • Promotion – Advertising & promotion expenses for a business can be decreased by constantly & regularly involving on social media to connect with the right audience.

(Bilal Ahmad, 2016)

Disadvantages of Social Media

  • Cyberbullying – Since anyone can create a fake account & do anything without being traced, it has become quite easy for anyone to bully on the Internet.
  • Hacking – Personal data & privacy can easily be hacked & shared on the Internet. Which can make financial losses & loss to personal life.
  • Addiction – The addiction of social media leads to people getting involved very extensively eventually being cut off from society. 
  • Fraud & Scams – The top 5 scams prevalent on social media include: hidden urls, cash grabs, phishing requests, hidden charges & chain letters.
  • Security Issues – Now a day’s security agencies have access to personal accounts. You never know when you are visited by any investigation officer regarding any issue that you mistakenly or unknowingly discussed over the internet.

(Bilal Ahmad, 2016

GDPR

“The digital future of Europe can only be built on trust. With solid common standards for data protection, people can be sure they are in control of their personal information,” (Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the Digital Single Market, 2015). On the 25th of May of this year, new EU regulations were brought into force regarding user’s personal data.

The reforms were given the name, ‘GDPR’; standing for General Data Protection Regulations. Essentially, they are new regulations designed to give citizens of the EU more control over their personal data. These reforms bring laws & obligations, specifically those around personal data, privacy & consent, across Europe up to speed for our digital age. (Danny Palmer, 2018)

We are an internet connected world. Almost everything we do involves the collection of some personal data. This data is then analysed, & possibly stored. Examples of personal data include your name, email address, credit card information, IP address, photos. Under GDPR, organisations have to ensure any personal data about subjects from the EU will have to be gathered in a strict & legal fashion. Those who collect & manage this personal data will have to prevent it from being misused or exploited. The rights of data owners will have to be recognised & respected, otherwise huge penalties may be incurred. (Danny Palmer, 2018)

Failure to Comply with GDPR

Failure to comply with GDPR results in extortionate repercussions.

  • The maximum fine amount is 20 million euros, or up to 4% of the company’s annual global turnover; whichever is greater. (www.eugdpr.org , 2018). For social media giants such as, ‘Facebook’, with annual revenues of billions, that 4% represents a tremendous amount of money.
  • These fines are assessed by Data Protection Authorities. These are the supervisory authorities in each member state which are appointed to implement & enforce the privacy laws. They are authorised to hear claims brought by data subjects, investigate alleged violations of the regulations, & to institute legal proceedings against violators. They are also required to keep records of their activities, & to publish reports of such activities. (Debra Shinder, 2017)
  • The purpose of the GDPR is to protect the privacy of personal data, not to hand out harsh punishments, but if organisations collect any sort of personal information, they cannot afford to ignore it.

Data Privacy Issues Case Study – ‘Facebook’

Corporate giant, ‘Facebook’, has suffered from data breaches & misuse of personal data. Prior to GDPR regulations, they did not receive severe repercussions for violating the rights of data subjects.

In 2014, researcher ‘Aleksandr Kogan’, developed a personality quiz application for ‘Facebook’. Approximately 270,000 users installed this application onto their account. Like any ‘Facebook’ developer at that time, he could access data about those users, & their friends. Instead of immediately deleting this data when the application asked users for it, it was saved onto a private database. Kogan provided that private database to voter profiling company, ‘Cambridge Analytica’. This database contained the information of 50 million users. ‘Cambridge Analytica’ then used this information to make millions of profiles about voters. Facebook were fined $660,000 as a result. (Robinson Meyer, 2018).

This was an obvious & immense misuse of data. ‘Facebook’ failed to comply with the most fundamental data protection principle – they were not upfront about what they were doing with people’s data. ‘Facebook’ were only fined $660,000 for this offense, as it was the largest possible fine at the time. If GDPR were in place, they would have faced severe repercussions, not just fined a sum of mere pocket money to them.

On the 28th of September 2018, The New York Times reported on another scandal in relation to ‘Facebook’ & data security. ‘Facebook’ itself released a statement reporting that an attack on its computer network had exposed the personal data of 50 million users. The breach was reported as the largest in the company’s history. (Mike Isaac, Sheera Frankel, 2018)

Attackers exploited a feature of the platform’s code to gain access to user accounts & potentially take control of them. 3 software flaws in the system allowed the intruders to break into user’s accounts, including founder & CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s. Once in, attackers could have gained access to hundreds of applications that offer users a way to log in to their systems through ‘Facebook’. Facebook reported that it fixed the vulnerabilities & notified law enforcement officials. (Mike Isaac, Sheera Frankel, 2018).

The investigation is still in its beginning stages, but it is believed that ‘Facebook’ could be facing a fine of billions a result of the breach & the introduction of GDPR. It is hoped that potentially severe repercussions caused by not respecting data regulations may induce social media giants like ‘Facebook’ to treat data protection issues with more concern.

Micro Targeting

The majority of social media platforms, including, ‘Facebook’, make use of micro targeting in order to provide themselves with a form of revenue, as most of these sites are free for users to join.

According to the Data Protection Commission (2018), Micro targeting is a form of online targeted advertising, which analyses user’s personal data. The function of this is to identify the interests of a specific audience in order to influence their actions.

For example, if a user ‘likes’ the ‘Facebook’ page of a certain political party, personalised advertisements relating to that party may come up on the user’s newsfeed. This works through the use of ‘cookies’.

Cookies

“Cookies are mentioned only once in the GDPR, but the repercussions are significant for any organisation that uses them to track users’ browsing activity.” (Luke Irwin, 2017).

Cookies track a user’s browsing habits, likes, & social interactions across social media platforms, & the wider internet, to build a profile about that user. This is how social media platforms tailor advertisements to user’s specific interests. (Richard Beaumont, 2018)

Under GDPR, organisations must ask for the user’s consent to operate this. This is the pop up notification that appears when a user first clicks onto a website. Most users opt-in to this notification as they wish to make it disappear off the webpage. A user can limit micro targeting like this through the settings & account settings on the application or webpage.

Under GDPR, consent to operate ‘cookies’ must be given through a “clear, affirmative action such as clicking an opt-in box. If there is no genuine & free choice, then there is no valid consent. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it. Sites will need an opt out option. Even after getting valid consent, sites must give users the option to change their minds. Users must always be able to return to a menu to adjust their preferences”. (Richard Beaumont, 2016).

Cookies track a great deal of user’s personal data, & so it is important that they are addressed by GDPR, & the regulations regarding the use of them adhered to & respected.

Conclusion

Privacy is well & truly deceased, & the eruption of social media platforms is to blame. The need for the introduction of General Data Protection Regulations showcases this, as virtually none of a user’s personal data is held solely by them in today’s world.

Recommendations

In my opinion, data privacy & internet safety needs to be introduced into school curriculums. As seen by the history of social media platforms, they are ever expanding & becoming more complex. The youth of today need to be made aware of the amount of data that is collected about them, & how to control this data. They also need to be made aware of the array of disadvantages relating to social media.

Data privacy issues & cases need to be taken seriously by social media giants, & every case should result in large fines. New platforms may emerge, resulting in people having a larger online presence, & so they need to be educated on about matters like what not to put online.

One should opt out of the use of cookies where possible, as I believe they track far too many of our online habits, to the stage where companies may know more about you than some of your friends. Having an online presence is ever becoming riskier & more intrusive, but not enough is being done about it.

There are many advantages & disadvantages of social media. In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. We are becoming ever more reliant on platforms, & they are a basic element of many people’s lives nowadays, but when will they become too much?

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