Los Angeles, California - News broke last week that a political data firm for the 2016 Trump campaign accessed private Facebook user data and then utilized it for targeting ads. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the “breach of trust” as a #DeleteFacebook movement began and amid reports that Cambridge Analytica was swept into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election meddling. USC experts believe that for social media users’ protection, that is not how any of this should work.
The rise of digital = a greater risk of exploitation
“The Cambridge Analytica partnership reveals that hundreds of millions of people are being swept up into large-scale surveillance and privacy breaches, which are used to profile and manipulate the public for political and financial gain, and which take place without our awareness. The consequences will be severe for the most vulnerable in our society, and those who don’t have the luxury of just deleting an app and moving on to the next thing.”
Safiya U.Noble is an expert on the ways that digital media impacts and intersects with issues of race, gender, culture, and technology design. Her new monograph on racist and sexist algorithmic bias in commercial search engines is entitled Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. She is an is an assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Did Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook affect the election?
“There has not been enough discussion about whether this type of manipulation has an effect on people’s politics. We don’t have actual information about whether these ads or efforts by Cambridge Analytica affected who people voted for, or whether these operations changed the election.”
Emilio Ferrara has studied how bots on Twitter were utilized by Russians to disrupt political discourse online and possibly to influence elections in the United States and France. Ferrara, a computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is an expert in cybersecurity and big data.
User agreements are a flimsy safeguard
‘Notice and choice’ refers to the presentation of terms by a company, generally delivered to the end-user through privacy policies or terms of service. Ideally, users could elect to decline or modify the collection of data, but more often users that opt out of data collection are either denied the service or product or provided with a significantly degraded service. Opting out of social media services such as Facebook is often not a viable choice if consumers want to stay up-to-date regarding news, employment opportunities, social gatherings or shared interests.
“The first step we need for greater protection is the recognition that the companies that gather the personal information and the users about whom the data is collected both have an interest in the use of the information.”
Valerie Barreiro is an expert in social media law, entertainment law and intellectual property. She is a visiting assistant professor at the USC Gould School of Law where she directs the Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic.
Tiny type will not build trust
“It is clear that trust needs to be built. In one story I saw, Facebook responded that ‘when users sign up for Facebook, they agree to this.’ This is really about the fine print, like when people sign up for a credit card or a bank account. But how many people actually read that and consciously accept it?
“Just like Facebook requests people to represent themselves appropriately when signing up, it behooves them to take the extra effort to be fully transparent. The response from Facebook so far is the weaker route of responding to this by saying ‘OK, we are going to improve.’ To build trust with people, you don’t just say, we are going to improve. You work on making your policies transparent, making your users feel protected and helping users understand the terms to which they are agreeing.”
Ali Abbas is an ethics and decision-making expert who directs the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making at the USC Marshall School of Business and USC Viterbi School. On March 30, he will host a conference at USC, “Next Generation Ethics,” largely focused on business and tech ethics for issues such as driverless cars, artifiical intelligence and machine learning. Learn more here.
#deletefacebook for protection? Just swap your account
Facebook seems to be in breach of its terms of service, and if that’s the case, its value-producing members should consider their options: ditch, deactivate, or dissemble. I suspect the best remedy will be feeding Facebook alternative data. A modest proposal: people might even consider swapping accounts in order to maintain a Facebook presence without the sacrificing their personal data. But this might prove moot to college students who seem to prefer other platforms, including group chat.”
Mark Marino is an expert in fake news, social media, and the cultural phenomenon of the #selfie. An associate professor at the USC Dornsife College, he directs the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab.