After Christopher Wylie made sensational revelations on how political parties in different countries engaged Cambridge Analytica for winning votes and how the company harvested data from Facebook, the media coverage on the timeline of events and company disclosures has been enormous.
Although there are more stakeholders, for some reason, the focus has got dramatically shifted to Facebook. If you look at the timeline, immediately after the news broke, the company went on a rough ride- practically under siege from lawmakers, regulators, users and shareholders. Even its own employees went fuming. Facebook stock plummeted in the following days wiping out some $35 billion of shareholder value. That’s huge even for the social media giant having market of more than half a trillion US dollars.
Now when the company supremo Mark Zuckerberg has almost unconditionally apologized for his mistakes, he seems to have achieved what he intended to by doing so. Moments after his testimony before the US Senate (read full text here), Facebook stock value surged dramatically. It may not be yet over for Mark Zuckerberg but with this masterstroke he is likely to win public sympathy as well as appreciation, not only for accepting the mistakes but also for the assurance for doing all possible to safeguard their privacy. Handling some 2 billion users’ privacy is no joke and he has honestly admitted it, albeit, after the damage is done.
The question is, who caused the damage? Is it Facebook, Cambridge Analytica or the politicians who manipulated the user data? Or is it the whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, who must have become an enemy of all the stakeholders overnight? One may say he caused damage to Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and also to the politicians. Well, perhaps he did but that hardly matters to the rest of the world.
The damage that matters is the damage caused to supposedly 87 million Facebook users’ privacy and, more than anything, to the sovereignty and integrity of nations including world’s two largest democracy. Unfortunately, this particular damage is caused by those who are supposed to be the protectors of nations- the politicians who do not mind selling their own country for selfish purposes.
Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are commercial organizations. They want to make money. Fine. No one can deny that Facebook’s free service has helped many in different ways, and it also has its own share of negative impact on the society. In either case, it would be too naive to think that it does not make money from the users for the service it provides “free of cost”. The testimony Mark Zuckerberg gave before the US Senate sounds clear and candid to a good extent, especially when we haven’t heard any serious objections to what he said. People have noted though that he admitted faults only now when he is under pressure.
So far Cambridge Analytica, it is an offshoot of the SCL Group (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories), which, according to Wiki, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company.
“In March 2018, multiple media outlets broke news of Cambridge Analytica’s business practices. The New York Times and The Observer reported on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach, in which the company used for political purposes personal information acquired about Facebook users, by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes. Shortly afterwards, Channel 4 News aired undercover investigative videos showing Nix boasting about using prostitutes, bribery sting operations, and honey traps to discredit politicians on whom it conducted opposition research, and saying that the company “ran all of (Donald Trump’s) digital campaign”. In response to the media reports, the Information Commissioner of the UK pursued a warrant to search the company’s servers. Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform, saying that it had been deceived. On 23 March 2018, the British High Court granted the Information Commissioner’s Office a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s London offices.” (Source)
Historically Britain, or England, is known for its notorious hankering for sneaking into others’ lives and property. They were forced to leave India in 1947 but still seem reluctant to leave it alone. Their ongoing interference in India is obvious to all politically alert people. Keeping this in mind, if Cambridge Analytica, a British company, misused Facebook data, even for political mileage, it should not surprise all.
As the story unfolds it seems that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data for financial gain without Facebook’s knowledge. Whether Cambridge Analytica was engaged in such business with the British government’s approval or whether its moves were known to British government is not yet known but nothing can be ruled out in politics.
Data harvesting industry is booming across the world. A news article on the BBC said that according to the US Federal Trade Commission, the really big data brokers – firms such as Acxiom, Experian, Quantium, Corelogic, eBureau, ID Analytics – can hold as many as 3,000 data points on every consumer. You never know how much data companies hold about you and if you can ever delete it.
Giving out personal details and sharing pictures may appear simple but when the dots are connected by data brokers the information gathered becomes good enough to know practically all about you- your personal life, your likes, dislikes, habits, family, friends, lifestyle, finances and so on. This is where you become vulnerable to manipulation by data harvesters and those who use their services for unethical purpose.
Coming to the politicians, they are the ones who pay lavishly to companies like Cambridge Analytica to win votes. Russian interference in the last US elections using data brokers and Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Brexit have seen heated debates. Recently in India there has been accusations and counter-accusations by political parties for engaging this particular company. When Christopher Wylie blew the whistle and named Congress as a political party involved in using Cambridge Analytica, the Congress, which is allegedly known for its British connections, turned back and jumped all guns at the ruling BJP. The BJP is no saint either and is also capable of engaging in such practices but the point being made here is, political parties have ruthlessly exploited user data in last few years and people need to be aware of it.
In last few years, India’s politicians have tried to divide the country for political gain by taking help of purchased user data. The last elections in Gujarat and the upcoming elections in Karnataka are examples of how caste based politics has taken lead over credibility of political leaders and parties. Data mining is the main business behind such caste mathematics.
When castes become vote banks the very fabric of India’s great culture that teaches unity in diversity is strained and the country becomes vulnerable to not only foreign influence but also foreign attacks. As they say, united we stand, divided we fall. But for the corrupt politicians only one thing seems important- safety of their bank balance and safety of their chair. Damage to country’s integrity does not seem to worry them.
We know how the entire parliament session got washed away this year in India. It’s a huge loss to the country. Now the same parties which caused the loss are making shows to protest against their own deeds. Similarly, those who deliberately create and support scandals are the ones talking against such acts when they face the heat. This is a known tactic among seasoned deceivers and people should not get misled by false propaganda.
The founder of ISKCON, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has spoken strongly against unscrupulous social leaders and politicians. He did not spare even the so-called religionists and spiritualists who, for personal gain or for want of knowledge, misguide people. The Vedic scriptures predict how people in Kaliyuga will be exploited and harassed by state governments. We can see it coming around the world.
It is not a hopeless situation though. By being alert we can safeguard ourselves from being manipulated. There is a great need of spiritual education. Unfortunately, it is again the politicians who create hurdles when spiritual education is proposed or introduced. Under the circumstance the responsibility of education comes on the parents’ shoulders. Adult education is equally important as for more than half a century Indians have been taught twisted history and British influenced education that has diminished their self esteem.
Rebuilding self esteem does not require Indians to follow their western friends. Industrialization and military power is not everything. If it were so, the so-called first world countries would have been happy today. Their cries over data breach, social security, increasing crimes, cold wars and what not is a proof they are not happy. India urgently needs to revive its culture. If the children and youth of the country can be trained in its ancient cultural values, India, known originally as Bharat varsh, can reemerge as the leader of the world just by the virtue of its wisdom. This in turn can save the world from succumbing to many potential catastrophes.
At the end of the day it is we who are responsible for our own choices. There are millions in the world who do not use social media and are still happy. They do not need Facebook or Instagram to advertise how happy they are. There are others who do not mind companies use their personal data as they do not have anything to lose. The onus lies on us. If we make the right choice we will not have much to lament. As a matter of fact making the right choice at every step in our life is the only freedom we, the living entities, have. For a safe and happy life all that we need to do is exercise that freedom in the right way.