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Regulation of technology needs working on.

Summary: Strict privacy protection enforcement by itself will not be the solution

By Iain Munro, Special to Gulf News

The latest privacy scandal to hit Facebook has shaken the wider tech industry, with markets moving based on the possibility of regulation being put in place.

"This was a major breach of trust, and I'm really sorry this happened," Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview on CNN. "Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Facebook does have a unique and important responsibility to engage in appropriate censorship and to provide accurate and true information to its users. What the future holds for Facebook and the wider tech industry when it comes to data protection is unknown.

But what is known is Facebook is here to stay. Since the latest scandal, and despite a widespread #DeleteFacebook campaign, Facebook has not seen a reduction in users, or activity.

Within in the highly anticipated two-day congressional hearing, viewed by millions, little was uncovered and no real results came from bringing Mark Zuckerberg to Washington. In fact, according to figures from on Bloomberg's rich list, Zuckerberg's personal fortune jumped by over $2.5 billion (Dh9.18 billion) during the course of the questioning by US senators.

What it did show was how many of the ageing US Senators are digitally naive.

With only four minutes per person, each senator had very little time to deep dive, but this didn't stop the senators going wildly off topic -- from cultural inclusion and racial diversity in Facebook and the wider tech industry, to raising the awareness on the need for more students in computer programme.

Even Senator Gary Peters, decided to utilise his precious time to re-debunk previously debunked conspiracy theories about Facebook listening to your conversations through our microphones. At times it seemed like a Facebook tutorial.

There also seemed to be a misunderstanding of Facebook's online advertising process and how Facebook utilises user's information. To be clear, Facebook doesn't sell your data to third-parties. This is not a profit stream for the company.

It uses the information it gathers from your profile for targeted advertising, to show you specific ads it thinks you're likely to enjoy or click on.

The latest privacy issues involve third-party apps retrieving personal data without permission.

Now this is an issue, but the two are very separate. It must also must be said that Facebook users grant a vast amount of third-party apps access to their information. This is not a hack or a breach. You are likely gave the app developer permission.

Did you play Farmville or Words With Friends, or log into a news site via your Facebook login? If so, you are agreeing to their terms of use and granting these developers access to your information.

In reviewing the apps and websites I personally had granted data access, I found over 120 active or expired third-parties who could access my information, with my consent.

You didn't? Not even your Apple Music, Trip Advisor or Uber account?

They may still have your data. And this is where the problem lies. According to Vox, in 2015 Facebook changed its API (application program interface) policies; giving a third-party the right to your data meant it could also harvest your friends' data.

This is how over 280 million users have had their information swept up by Cambridge Analytica and other malicious app developers.

Off the back of this, Zuckerberg and Facebook have confirmed third-party apps can no longer access your friends' data -- and are still doing more. They have committed to investigating every single app on his platform, and will impose bans on those who have misused information.

There are also plans going forward to ensure developers cannot access as much information as they used to, meaning that apps who work with Facebook are restricted to only three pieces of information about you -- name, email and profile photo.

The congressional hearing might only be the beginning of potential turbulent times for Facebook, with several government bodies initiating independent investigations. But whatever the next steps are we must remember in all this, we are stepping into unchartered territory.

We must also recognise Facebook, like it or not, with 20 per cent of the world's population connected to the platform, has changed the world. So those critiquing the actions of Facebook and other tech companies must understand the issues and provide realistic solutions, so that the industry can continue to thrive. But within the prescribed boundaries of public safety.

Iain Munro is a strategy consultant.

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Author:Iain Munro, Special to Gulf News
Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 1, 2018
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