Trust factor in spotlight amid Facebook data breach
Dubai - Facebook data breach raises even more concerns on users' data privacy.
Smartphones and other devices are so essential in the lives of people today that, like it's said, it just feels like you're naked without it. Even more important are the apps we've installed in them, which, essentially, does everything for us as we go through the day.
Of course, unless you're using a Jurassic-age mobile, you'll know that apps request permission from you to allow access to certain sectors of your smartphone, with camera, contacts and location being among the most common ones. Disagree to all or any of that and it's either you won't get the app's full experience or you don't get to use it at all.
The problem is, practically every app requests access to some areas that don't seem necessary. Seriously, why would an app require access to the flashlight or ask to prevent your device from sleeping?
Trust and privacy is a hot topic right now, thanks to a stunning incident that just happened.
Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million Facebook profiles in a major breach. Apparent whistleblower Christopher Wylie says he's being used as a 'scapegoat'. Facebook says it is 'outraged' that it was 'deceived'. Mark Zuckerberg said he's 'really sorry that this happened'. All of us are stunned. Welcome to the wild, wild world of cyber-space, where 'behind the scenes' is also 'what the hell is really going on here?'
Oh, one more thing: Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, says 'it is time [to] #deletefacebook'. That statement, considering the fact that WhatsApp is a Facebook-owned entity, is just like rubbing salt into the wound.
Arguably, when people start using an app for the first time, they just go ahead and 'allow' these permission requests with gusto, but this could only be because - like in my case - they only settle for apps that are what they need and they know have a huge following; you just don't go ahead, downloading and installing anything unless you really need it.
"A good starting point is to institute user education around mobile application risks," Alastair Paterson, CEO and co-founder of Digital Shadows, says.
"This includes the risk of purchasing from third-party stores, downloading cracked versions of applications, and granting requests for intrusive permissions and privileges."
That says it all. Doing a little research - how popular an app is, reviews on it, do you really even need it - can have huge benefits.
In 2017, 197 billion apps were downloaded worldwide, according to Statista, an almost 32 per cent rise from 2016's 149.3 billion. It forecasts that by 2021, this figure will rocket 79.1 per cent to 352.9 billion.
In the United States - which is at the centre of the data breach fiasco - of all those apps, the category users spent most time on was - you guessed it - social media at 29 per cent, according to comScore. The over 2.2 billion Facebook diehards and more than 1.5 billion WhatsApp users at the end of 2017 really helped jack up this figure. Going deeper, Facebook was also the most popular app in terms of penetration at 81 per cent.
(Here's an interesting statistic: as at January 2018, the most popular app category on iOS is games at 25.02 per cent. Social networking, believe it or not, is 17th - out of 20 - at 2.11 per cent.)
Overall, there are over 3.7 million apps available on Google Play for Android devices. Apple's App Store, meanwhile, had 2.2 million in January 2017, and is estimated to have had about 3.6 million at the end of last year.
So if an app like Facebook - so trusted and so liked - can be a 'victim' of a data breach, what about the rest of the millions out there sitting on app stores available for download?
An app of Facebook's magnitude just couldn't go rogue; it can't afford to. Not being the platform it serves businesses, advertisers and, most importantly, the simple users who just want to connect and find solace from daily life.
"Trust is paramount to the future of [Facebook]," Scott Devitt, an analyst at Stifel, said on CNBC.
"That's what is significant here. That's what's truly at risk."
At risk indeed: in the wake of the data breach, the US and UK government have demanded answers. And Facebook boss Zuckerberg's public apology - and subsequent pledges to fix things up with a number of drastic measures he laid out - did little to extinguish the fire that seems to be growing by the minute.
To make matters worse, it was also brought to light that Facebook knew about the data breaches - but it did nothing.
And this trust is not only limited to users. Investors are also rattled: on March 16, a day before the Cambridge Analytica data mess was brought to light, Facebook's market capitalisation was at $537.69 billion. On Saturday, it's plunged to $463.03 billion - that's almost $75 billion wiped out in a week.
"The news of... Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook data pushed tech stocks lower as investors reacted with concern," Mihir Kapadia, CEO and founder of Sun Global Investments, says.
"This latest breach raises further questions over Facebook and other large tech companies' use of customer data, which analysts believe could force greater scrutiny from governments across the globe."
Wylie, the youthful former director of research at Cambridge Analytica and who was behind - or one of those behind - the scandal, seeks to undo what has happened. But the damage has been done. Data of some 50 million Facebook users have been compromised.
Sure, this episode does send chills up our spine when it comes to privacy. But as plain users, there's nothing we can do on our end but to be vigilant with the apps we get and use. As they say, prevention is better than cure - there's no other better, simpler way to put it.