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  Discourse   28 Mar 2018  People must be smarter than the tools

People must be smarter than the tools

Published : Mar 28, 2018, 1:34 am IST
Updated : Mar 28, 2018, 1:34 am IST

Cyber Security experts often ask one tough question, why is it that people feel the need to put up everything on social media.

User is being manipulated at every stage on platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.
 User is being manipulated at every stage on platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.

The phrase of the era is ‘Information is oil’ and those who have it will certainly get power. In this era based on technology, each one among you leaves a digital footprint online which is now indirectly being used by politicians to influence your thoughts.  When you reveal your political views on Facebook or Twitter, you are actually revealing your political identity which is otherwise a secret ballot. Just because Facebook constantly nags you to update your political views, relationship status, sexual orientation etc., it doesn’t mean it is planning to block you if you do not do so.  The early designers of FB recognised the importance of giving users “a little dopamine hit every once in a while” in the form of “likes” and comments. Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker had earlier said, “It literally changes your relationship with the society. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”.

User is being manipulated at every stage on platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. and are not just connecting people but acting as spyware. The need for social validation is what brings users to access social media and this desperation of human psychology is being targeted by spywares. This data is then being sent to marketers to influence you by showing more of what you like or comment or search for. There will be a point of time when users want to de-addict themselves from this dopamine-driven effect of social media. That is when Facebook started seeing passive users who merely scroll and do not divulge details. It was affecting their business. So Mark Zuckerberg said that he decided to fix Facebook by making people more active on it by providing relevant information at the onset of 2018.   Any measure taken by apps ultimately boils down to using more of these platforms and more time being spent. Once the user’s attention is on the platform, the companies will be able to get better revenue by selling it to the advertisers.


According to Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower, Cambridge Analytica was “creating a web of this information online so that people will start going down the rabbit hole, clicking on blogs, websites etc., that make them think things are happening that may not be”. This work is done by IT Cells of every party, who have social media coordinators starting from the booth level to national-level. The job of these co-ordinators is to identify your affiliations based on your posts, and keep bombarding you with information.  During the UP elections, voters were receiving several messages on Whatsapp and social media based on their interactions. These messages were not just about whom to vote, but the flaws of Opposition parties and also about the atrocities taking place. Some of the users even got messages about mayhem faced by Hindus in Kashmir while they were voters of UP. Another Facebook man, who was the former vice-president of the site Chamath Palihapitiya said at the Stanford Business School event, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works”.


Technology is like a Frankenstein’s monster; the more you feed the beast, in the worst possible way it will destroy. If you like something and leave it, it is going to haunt you. Haunt you to download apps, like pages, check images. According to Srinivas Kodali, independent security researcher, people should understand that there is no delete button in the technology world. “There is lot of data being collected by parties and nobody knows what kind of data is being collected. This data will be used to target you.” Some parties are late entrants in the game of likes and are playing around with flaws in technology. Even though they are voicing opinions using the latest and greatest technological platforms available, Congress has demanded to return to the ballot paper instead of electronic voting machines (EVMs). 


It took decades for the common man to embrace technology and every time a party asks them to go back to paper, they are dragging the civilisation back.  While parties try to educate people on which one-ballot paper or EVM is best, have they ever released any white paper on how their IT cell or apps function or how much electoral data they have? The only answer to the question on how much data can be used is when Election Commission comes into picture and frames rules in this unregulated territory. But for now, ultimately the onus lies on the person who is giving information. In the last five years, the meaning of digital literacy has changed from computer education to being able to use smartphones. Due to this learning by experience and depending on smartphones, people often tend to give away important information to others knowingly and unknowingly which is tailoring their views or political affiliations.  Cyber Security experts often ask one tough question, why is it that people feel the need to put up everything on social media.  It is because "We always think it won't happen to us". 


Our negligence is the root cause for political parties to play around with our ideologies and allowing social media platforms to manipulate us and take away all the data. In the Cyber world, people have been identified as the weakest link among the technology, process and users.  In India, people have only three identities — Aadhaar, e-mail-ID and cellphone. Each of this is extremely powerful.  As Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the tools that you have faith in — tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not”.

Troubles go back to 2015:  FB’s troubles go back to 2015 when app developer Aleksandr Kogan sought access to information from users who downloaded his third party app, “thisisyourdigitallife” on FB. His company Global Science Research (GSR) was involved. It was touted as “a research app used by psychologists but data was palmed off to CA, which helps political parties target voters with specific messages


Fb sins of omission and commission 
By late 2015, FB had knowledge that users’ and friends’ data had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. But it failed to alert users. Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends’ data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being sold on or used for advertising.

FB slept over data leak for two years 
Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection specialist, who spearheaded the investigative efforts into the tech giant, said: “Facebook has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”


Tags: cyber security, twitter, facebook