Data security is all over the news these days, and for good reason. Facebook, holding the data of over 2 billion users worldwide, dominated headlines after data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly facilitated illegal election tampering through misuse of the site’s user data. It’s no surprise that Facebook users are up in arms over the violation of their privacy.
Facebook’s safety problems, thanks to the social site’s international footprint, have wide-ranging implications. That reality is that billions are sharing their data with Facebook — and countless other social media companies — with no guarantee that this information won’t fall into the wrong hands, as when Cambridge’s data-scraping techniques were used to target voters in the 2016 presidential election.
Few would consider it an exaggeration to say that our democracy is at stake when online data is compromised to this extent, and a growing number of mainstream voices are declaring that the site as it currently exists poses a danger to global society. When people’s friendships, work connections, and personal interests are mined by shady analysts, a whole new variety of election fraud becomes possible.
In the information age, data security is crucial for individuals and businesses alike. Although they’ve never been more relevant, the methods through which our data is wrongfully acquired are often misunderstood. Rather than a kind of cyber breaking and entering of the type we see in the movies, most data infiltration happens through simple, unglamorous phishing, like malicious software masquerading as a message from a friend. Once opened, any and all data stored on said computer is available for the taking.
Following his grilling in front of Congress in 2018, Facebook founder, CEO, and all-around tech ubermensch Mark Zuckerberg assured the nation that his beleaguered company had the perfect corrective to concerns about security. His solution, already implemented by the social media giant, involves using advanced artificial intelligence software to sniff out fraudulent profiles and data-stealing infiltrators. AI, Facebook feels, represents the best way for our data to stay safe as more and more of our lives are conducted online.
Slipping around safeguards, rather than knocking them down, is the primary way our data comes under attack. Robust, reliable, and most of all intelligent measures are what’s necessary to maintain the safety of customers’ personal info. If users can’t be assured their data is safe, Facebook and others can expect them to gravitate elsewhere. Needless to say, the company is fighting this possibility with all they’ve got.
Whether out of concern over user privacy, the need for good PR, or both, Facebook is undeniably dedicating itself to leadership in the growing AI security field. Their internal research team, among those at the forefront of AI development, already claims as a foundational principle a dedication to keeping user info private. If they can be successful in creating reliable AI-influenced ways to defend personal data from bad actors, we can expect their public perception (not to mention their bottom line) to skyrocket.
There is certainly some skepticism of the effectiveness of machine learning to solve such problems. In fact, a recent CNBC piece describes the data security crisis as a job somewhat unfit for AI, necessitating human minds better able to recognize suspicious actions when software-based observations cannot.
Other commentators have warned of a potential increase in data danger thanks to the proliferation of AI. As the thinking goes, the rising tide of AI will lift all software boats, meaning malicious AI programs will one day more effectively break through security measures to infiltrate secure systems and steal personal and financial data.
Facebook has reported some success in AI protection, albeit in somewhat limited form. As it stands now, it will take a wide expansion of AI capabilities before smart software can truly keep us and our information safe. The technology is in early stages and its massive potential is only just beginning to be realized.
For all its benefits and dangers, no observer will deny that AI is here to stay. While tech firms race to develop the best implementations of machine learning, it will become ever more crucial for data security to be a part of it. There’s an unspoken contract that we enter into when we entrust our personal data to online entities. Hopefully, with AI, they’ll be able to keep up their end of the bargain.
Bennat Berger is an entrepreneur, investor, and tech writer based in New York City. He is a co-founder and Principal at Novel Property Ventures, a real estate firm that specializes in amassing and managing multifamily residential units in New York City. He is also a founding partner at the investment firm Novel Private Equity, where he oversees investments across a diverse range of interests, from experiential retail to entertainment to supermarket technologies.