Tech Tent: Facebook's data privacy crisis

Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent
@BBCRoryCJon Twitter


What have we learned this week about the dangers of sharing our lives on Facebook - and can we now take back control?

This week's Tech Tent explores how the biggest crisis in the social media company's history has unfolded - and asks what might happen next. Will Facebook really change its ways, or will regulators have to step in and make it be more transparent about how it uses our data?

After all, according to one of our guests Emma Mulqueeny, it and other platforms "utilised the easiest business model they could and closed their eyes and crossed their fingers that it would be too annoying, too complicated or too late by the time people started wanting to take control of their own data".

Some people have now decided to take to the courts to assert their rights over their own data. Among them is a US citizen, Prof David Carroll. He is taking Cambridge Analytica to court in the UK to get access to data he says it holds on him.

The company, which acquired the Facebook profiles of 50 million people from an academic researcher, boasted in the past that it had 4,000-5,000 data points on just about every American citizen.

Prof Carroll tells Tech Tent that this boast inspired him to demand his file but what he received from the company was "alarming but not complete", a model of the political beliefs he probably held and his likelihood to vote.

Convinced that there must be far more data, he went to court to seek it - not in the United States but in the UK where the law is more friendly to this kind of case. With Europe's major new data protection law GDPR arriving in May we can expect more cases to cross the Atlantic.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Mark Zuckerberg has been criticised over the way he has handled the Cambridge Analytica data leak

In the meantime, some people have decided the only answer is to get off Facebook - although. whether the fact that #deletefacebook has been trending says anything about the numbers actually leaving is open to doubt.

And for many people in developing countries where Facebook is synonymous with the internet that will not look like a good option, But Marieme Jamme, a Senegal-born entrepreneur and founder of a movement which aims to give African girls skills in computing and technology, that is another reason why Facebook's power needs to be curbed.

She tells us that governments across Africa have seen just how much influence the social network has and are spending big money to use it to try to swing elections. "We open our doors to Facebook," she tells us. "The average African spends six to seven hours on it, I'm not saying it's 100% bad but we need to regulate it and at the moment there is no regulation."

In Africa and elsewhere, there are now growing calls for Facebook's wings to be clipped. The coming weeks will show whether this really has been a lightbulb moment where two billion Facebook users wake up to the dangerous bargain they have struck with the social network - or whether they go on sharing their data with not a care in the world.

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