Brave New World: What Price Do We Pay for Free Online Services?

© AFP 2023 / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica, in central London
A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica, in central London - Sputnik International
Facebooks founder, Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for the Cambridge Analytica data breach, outlining his intent to boost the platforms security. Nevertheless, Facebook users are angered that Zuckerberg has been ‘cowering behind the Facebook wall’. Sputnik spoke about this with Andrew Smith, author and senior lecturer at the Open University.

Sputnik: Zuckerberg has promised to make it harder for apps to harvest users data- but isn't data collection just an inevitable part of our digital lives?

Andrew Smith: I think it has been for a very, very long time, and probably more so than we've realized. People are aware that cookies collect data, and we have warnings now telling us that cookies are being dropped on our computers. Data is being collected in History file logs and in other ways on computers since we have all been using the internet from the mid 1990's. So it's a way of life. I just think it's become easier at a greater scale and more on mass, which has made Facebook and Cambridge Analytica the current news story.

Sputnik: CA Data was apparently not deleted when they said they would be- how can we as users protect ourselves against that?

Andrew Smith: We can't I'm afraid. We are trusting organizations with our data all the time. It's a bit like using an email account. We'll call it ‘’. So we have been using this account for years, and then we decide to delete our account with ''. There is nothing stopping 'bobsmail' from keeping all that data, all of our emails forever, on a hard-drive, on data storage somewhere on the planet.

Sputnik: Zuckerberg is proposing new measures of security- but he has known about the breach for years. Doesn’t this just show that he is groveling for the sake of the platforms ‘integrity’?

Andrew Smith: Facebook possibly hasn't handled this in the best way that they could. They hadn't communicated very well with the average user about what data they are using, keeping and how they are handling it. As techies we have known for a long time that Facebook are using all of the data, we have known that other third party apps (such as the one produced by Cambridge Analytica) are using all of this data. Many of us are sensible about the data we choose to share. But a lot of individuals out there, the 'ordinary' individual, who were not aware, are now slightly upset by this, quite reasonably. I think it is up to Facebook now to face up to this picture of miscommunication, and just create a new culture of understanding.

Sputnik: So what should we do? Delete our Facebook accounts? Go and live in a cave far away from any Wi-Fi signals?

Andrew Smith: Don't be afraid that these large organizations are using our data, if we want to use their services for free. So Twitter, Facebook, Google and many others, are using our data. That is their stock in trade, and that's how we're getting a lot of their services for free, and doing some great things with them. What we also have to understand is that we have to be careful about what we share — regarding ourselves, our children and our families. There are many good things that can come from this data; people are using it for statistical analysis of different diseases, so that they can come up with better responses. At the same time there are people that will use it for their own reasons. Some of them will not be the best reasons, and this story that is in the news is proof that there are some organizations that haven't behaved in the best way possible. We don't know the details but we do know the upset that has occurred from this.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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