The illusion called Privacy

First and foremost, an apology to the nonexistent readers. I have been away for god knows how many months. I have been busy. I travelled a lot during these months, school has been crazy, so I apologize for not being updated. How I got time now? I’ll explain a bit later, but for now, let’s make a rule. At least one blog post per month. Let’s see how that works out.

Recently, Facebook came under a lot of scrutiny after it was revealed to the NY Times and The Guardian that an app, Cambridge Analytica, was using the private data of 50 million or so users to predict the election outcome for 2016. The reason this blew up so much was that it goes directly in contrast with Facebook’s policy of not selling/giving out the data of facebook users to third party recipients.

Now of course, facebook, being the master of the damage control it is, decided to give out a full one page ad containing an apology from the founder Mark Zuckerberg in every major newspaper outlet. But this time, the damage was done. Soon enough, #DeleteFacebook started trending on major social media, ironically, including Facebook.

Unfortunately, human mind has the tendency to forget things over time. We humans kind of suck when it comes to information retention. So I am sure that once some new sensational scandal comes on, this event will be swept under the rug, and Facebook, more or less, will go back to their old practices, whatever they may be.

However, a data abuse and misuse like this, specially at this scale, tends to attract a lot of public (read: common folk) attention. That included me as well. So when I read the article on the Flipboard app about Facebook bringing their privacy settings to the front page, and making all the data since the beginning of the account creation available to download on one click, naturally I was curious. So I decided to give it a try. I decided to download all my data since 14 December, 2009.

Facebook took a couple of hours to gather all the data and pinged me when my download was ready. It downloaded as (myusername.zip). After extracting, a bunch of web pages showed up. Once I opened one of them, all the data presented itself in a neat Facebook profile fashion with links to every single webpage stacked neatly.

I took a deep breath and opened the first page. I was genuinely surprised by the unfathomable information Facebook had gathered about me, an insignificant user, since 2009. It literally contained every single one of my friends, the friend requests I had sent, accepted, declined, neatly labeled. It had the record of every status update I had made since 2009, all my media, tagged or uploaded, every comment, like I had made, every single message I had sent or received from or to anyone, pokes (yes, pokes), pings, groups, group chats, the IP addresses of the servers I was logging in through, time, date, location, every single thing you can ever possibly imagine, Facebook had it. I was literally shaken to my core by looking at the gigantic data Facebook had about me. And let me remind you, this is only the data Facebook wanted to show me, or the data I fed to the servers. I cannot even begin to imagine what Facebook holds about me that it has generated by using its sophisticated prediction algorithms and other tricks.

All this brings me to 3 points:

  1. As I mentioned earlier, Human mind has the tendency to forget things. We have a problem with information retention. I initially thought that was a curse. I mean, who wouldn’t like walking into an exam and remembering every single answer word to word. But the more I thought about it, it looked like a blessing in disguise. After I read all the embarrassing messages I had sent to various people, including my then-crush, thanks to the Facebook data, I realized that I was lucky I had forgotten about it and had moved on with my life.
  2. As far as the issue of Cambridge Analytica goes, God oh God did they get a LOT of data! An insignificant individual user like me had generated an online footprint of over 100Mb over the past 9 years on just one single platform, imagine the data of 50 million people being read by CA. They must have gotten a kick out of it.
  3. Should Facebook be punished? Yes and No. Yes, because Facebook broke their promise of never sharing data. No, because it was the third party that misused it, and Facebook, being the big guy, is being used as a scapegoat by the media. But that’s just my opinion.

Thought this whole story was pretty interesting, so I should write it down. Here it is. As a sign off, I would like to justify my absence over the past few months. I travelled to India, I travelled to Oregon, Los Angeles CA, and some other places. Strictly leisure. Good life. Apart from that, I bought a new PlayStation, so Call of Duty WW2 keeps me pretty busy (Hint: Expect a post on it soon), plus I am working on a 24X7 on call capacity, as well as studying full-time. So I have been away.

So how did I find time now? As a result of this big scandal, as well as some deeply personal life events, I decided to delete my Facebook and Instagram app. So the frivolous time I used to spend by scrolling through Facebook videos, and Instagram pictures, was productively, and finally spent on Medium. This is just the first step among the many ones that I am going to take, or even taking right now, to find that somewhat lost inner peace. I’ll keep you updated. Perhaps through medium. Until then, adios, and may the peace be with you if it isn’t already.

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Varad Bandishti

Varad Bandishti

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