Facebook

The recent Facebook scandal about 50 million users suffering breach of their private data shows that stronger government regulation is needed to make social media companies protect their users’ privacy better, an industry expert said Friday.

Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, an American market research and consulting firm, said the privacy crisis plaguing Facebook, the world’s largest online social media company, indicates that social media companies may not be able to properly handle users’ data. So the government needs to step in to ensure that “each citizen’s data is private up to a certain level.”

Facebook has been under fire since the past week after it was found that the data of 50 million users was leaked to a third-party application and allegedly misused by British analysis company Cambridge Analytica to swing public opinion in U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. “The bigger issue really from this whole story is the fact that people are just becoming aware of how much information people have and how many of these services (the companies) have controlled without the knowledge of their users,” O’Donnell said. While some people argue that Facebook asked for users’ permission to access their data, the problem is, O’Donnell said, that the users didn’t understand the implications before their data was shared secretly and used for “a lot of not-so-good purposes”.

Social media companies collect information from all kinds of places and have “huge power” concerning their users, he said. They can use the data to track people, as in the case of Facebook, which was said to be able to even track phone calls by its Android users. “People are upset about this and there is this sense of … a big brother-like situation … That’s been a big concern for people,” he said. The Facebook data leak has undermined people’s trust in social media firms, the chief analyst said. Social media has evolved, becoming more like a publishing platform, and a lot of negative things have happened there, he said, upsetting people.

Social media users mostly don’t realize their data is being used and how these platforms could manipulate them. They need to strike a balance between communication needs and the information they are sharing, he cautioned. In addition, social media firms should take steps to win back users’ trust. “I think the only way you can start to build trust is by offering very clear explanations of what data they have, what they can use, how they can use it.” Meanwhile, the government’s role should be enhanced.

It should press social media firms to establish better mechanisms to protect user data. “The government at this point is going to have to be looking out for citizens and say what is best for citizen safety, not necessarily for the company’s,” he said. He thought there should be government regulations to protect users’ interests, saying, “This will then have an influence on business models.” O’Donnell expects the Facebook crisis to affect the whole ecosystem of social media firms. The silver lining is, he added, an enhanced public awareness of what these issues are, which will help bring changes.

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