Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the "Mafia del poder": A reflection on privacy.
You may have heard about the recent scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the company that obtained and utilized the personal data of 37 million Facebook users, influencing the United States elections.
You might be wondering if this affects you in any way (at least directly), and if so, should you care? And if you should care, can you do something about it?
Now, you may be asking yourself: What does this have to do with the "mafia del poder"?
Let's start there:
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that some Twitter users started posting variations of the following image:
I couldn't find the original image author, but I thought it would be fun for anyone to create their own credentials. Since im a developer, I took my laptop, bought a domain, and got to work. Four hours later, the website was published: http://www.mafiadelpoder.mx/
If you're not from Mexico or simply disconnected from politics, "Mafia del poder" is what Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate for MORENA in Mexico, calls almost anyone who doesn't support him.
The idea is simple: you register with Facebook or Twitter, and using your photo, name, gender, and age, the application creates your personalized credential as a member of the "mafia del poder". You can share this image with your friends and it opens the door for them to visit the website and create their own credential.
I shared it on Twitter, reached out to some Facebook pages to help with sharing, and voilà, people started registering. Although the number of visits (and registrations) wasn't spectacular, the graph showed an exponential trend. The site reached 1,000 registrations and it seemed like it would continue growing. However, on the fourth day, visits dropped by 90%. The reason? It's hard to say, and although I have some theories, they are the subject of another article.
Around the same time, a viral game called "How Would You Look of the Opposite Sex?" emerged on Facebook. The hype surrounding it led to some articles talking about the "theft" of personal information in these types of applications.
This got me thinking: you know what? This little game I made for fun in just four hours is no different. With a little effort, I collected a database that reached over 1,000 registered users in a couple of days. Out of those, at least 800, which is 80%, didn't take precautions to avoid sharing their photo, email, gender, age, and if you think about it, their possible political preference.
So, I ask myself: What if it had gone viral? What if it does later on? In that case, how much is that information worth in the hands of a political party or the government? Can it somehow alter elections or something else? I leave the answer to your imagination.
Let's go back to Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. If you delve into the topic, you'll know that the information Cambridge Analytica worked with was obtained during a time when Facebook shared personal information more easily and by default (for example, your friend list) with similar applications.
Is it more complicated now? Yes, it is, but not impossible. And I can assure you that with the right strategy, people would give you even their bank account.
Some might say, "I never open applications like that, and if I do, I don't share my personal information." Okay, that's a step, but I think it goes further. Think about it: Cambridge Analytica obtained only a tiny fraction of the information that Facebook knows about a tiny fraction of its users, and with that, they were able to influence the election of the president of the most powerful country in the world.
On the other hand, I assume you know that Facebook doesn't make money by having more photos of your nephews (or maybe it does). Facebook lives off your information, the advertising it sends you, selling your data, etc. In short, you are the product.
Take a moment to think about it again: Facebook knows who your best friends are, your family, what music you like, which political party you support, what you talk about, your socioeconomic level, where you live, where you want to go, where you work, how much you earn, and I could go on. In summary, it knows more about you than you know about yourself.
The saying goes: "knowledge is power," and we're talking about one of the largest databases of knowledge ever recorded in history. Power, furthermore, in the hands of a single company that, if it were a country, would be the most populous in the world. I don't know about you, but that worries me.
Okay, okay, what can I do?
Easy: close Facebook and, while you're at it, stop using Google, Uber, WhatsApp, Instagram, Waze, etc. Okay, okay... let's not be radical. The truth is, social media is part of our lives and the modern world, and completely disconnecting from it is a new form of isolation.
Here are some easy ideas:
Simply limit what you share.
Imagine that these companies will have that information forever, yes, you read that right: forever. It's hard to imagine how your information could be used in the future in other ways, but I wouldn't take the risk. Also, is it really necessary to share that you went to the gym? And I don't want to touch on the topic, but the truth is, your nephew isn't as cute as you think.
What did I do? I removed the Facebook application from my phone. This way, I share less, waste less time, and don't disconnect completely.
Take a few minutes to investigate how to limit access to your information.
The main applications have options to protect your information (from others, not from themselves).
Avoid connecting to unknown sites or at least limit what you share. Do you really need to know "what kind of taco you are"?
If you can't resist, the main social media platforms allow you to decide what information you share:
Use tools to protect your privacy.
For web browsers, for example, there are tools that help protect your privacy.
You can aslso use a VPN. I know it's not a viable solution for everyone, but a VPN is a much more effective way to hide some information from the sites you visit.
To explain it simply, a VPN filters all your browsing to hide your information from all the sites you visit (have you ever seen a TV on Amazon and suddenly started seeing TVs on almost every site you visit? That's the reason).
Moreover, a VPN makes it more difficult (not impossible) for your telecommunications provider or even the government to "track" you, i.e., know which websites you visit and even where you are and where you have been (yes, they know all of that). Hiding that information is an important plus, if you ask me.
Is it too exaggerated? It may be, only time will tell.
A brief reflection. I hope you like it