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Maybe it is time

Maybe it is time 

Consumer outrage, political grandstanding, and the fact that Facebook Inc’s shares fell four per cent will likely trigger some minor policy changes, but those expecting more clearly don’t understand the business model. Facebook, like most social media platforms, exist to serve the interests of owners and shareholders, not users. Andrew Lewis (@andlewis) nailed it in his famous sixteen word tweet: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” And, whether Facebook intended it or not, that’s exactly what Cambridge Analytics is alleged to have done.

Facebook is not alone. The stark reality is that social media companies profit by advertising, collecting personal information, and selling access to their users. Consider Facebook’s privacy policy. The section about information the company collects is almost a page long, and ranges from name, email address, birthday and gender to profile pictures, cover photos, IP address, operating system, browser information, and GPS location. But perhaps more revealing is that the company receives, “data about you whenever you use or are running Facebook, such as when you look at another person’s timeline, send or receive a message, search for a friend or a Page, click on, view or otherwise interact with things, use a Facebook mobile app, or make purchases through Facebook.”

In addition, Facebook receives information from users’ friends: “We receive information about you from your friends and others, such as when they upload your contact information, post a photo of you, tag you in a photo or status update, or at a location, or add you to a group.”

Facebook did issue a statement, but for reasons unknown, refused to apologize to its once-loyal users, “Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue. The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

There is actually a silver lining to this particular social media dark cloud; it has grabbed the attention of legislators in Ottawa. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that Facebook has “an enormous number of very serious questions to answer,” while Scott Brison, Acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, said he has contacted the federal Privacy Commissioner to determine whether Canadians’ personal data has been compromised.

“We have received a complaint against Facebook in relation to allegations involving Cambridge Analytica and have therefore opened a formal investigation,” said Commissioner Daniel Therrien. “The first step will be to confirm with the company whether the personal information of Facebook users in Canada was affected.” The investigation will examine Facebook’s compliance with Canada’s federal private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

There is now a serious campaign for Facebook users to delete their accounts. WhatsApp founder Brian Acton urged, “It is time. #deletefacebook.” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has reportedly deleted the Facebook Pages for SpaceX and Tesla, complete with their combined five million followers.

Facebook is trying to maintain its high number of users, and in turn, access to their data, by suggesting users “deactivate” their accounts instead of deleting them. But this appears to be backfiring as users download a copy of their Facebook data and examine the treasure trove of information help by the firm.

Facebook apps ask permission to upload contact information from mobile devices, claiming to help users find friends and prioritize content. Messenger for Android even asks for permissions to read call and SMS logs for a similar purpose. Users have reported discovering nasty surprises, including vast records of texts and calls involving communications with people that users did not connect with via Facebook or Facebook Messenger.

Maybe it is time.

Have a security question you’d like answered in a future column? Eric would love to hear from you.

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