Another Facebook data breach: What does this mean for users?

Most social media users are concerned about privacy, and these concerns surfaced once again over the last few weeks when Facebook announced it had experienced its biggest data breach in history.

What happened?

On September 28, Facebook announced cyber attackers gained full access to around 50 million Facebook accounts. A further 40 million accounts were deemed “at risk”. Around 300,000 Australians are thought to have been part of those numbers. In response, Facebook logged these 90 million users out of their accounts and asked them to log back in, with a notification of the breach appearing on their newsfeeds.

On October 12, Facebook announced that it was in fact only 29 million users who were directly affected. Of these 29 million, the attackers took profile information from 14 million users, including birth dates, employers, education history, religious preference, types of devices used, pages followed and recent searches and location check-ins. The remaining 15 million users could be considered lucky, with their data breach restricted to name and contact details.

The social media giant claims it doesn’t know who the attackers were nor what their motivation was. The breach was a result of three vulnerabilities in the app being exploited simultaneously to allow the hackers access to accounts. 

For the biggest data breach in history, there doesn’t seem to be as much discussion about it as would be expected. Could it be that we’re becoming used to it? Perhaps it’s the ‘that won’t happen to me’ mentality that subsides a big reaction.

Or as CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan put it: “I think we all have data breach fatigue.”

Even Googling ‘Facebook data scandal’ churns out article after article about the data breach from March this year, rather than what’s described as the biggest data breach in history.

Previous data-breach cases

One of the most notable cases of data breaching happened in March 2018. The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that “uses data to change audience behaviour”, had harvested the personal data of more than 87 million Facebook users.

Most of the controversy surrounds Cambridge Analytica’s use of the data to influence voter behaviour in the 2016 election, likely helping Trump become president and also impacting the Brexit.

The data was breached via the personality quiz app ‘thisisyourdigitallife’. Users consented for the app to collect their data when they took the quiz, but they did not consent for information to be collected from each of their Facebook friends, which is what ultimately occurred. So, of the 87 million people involved, only 270,000 people used the app. Furthermore, data of 300,000 Australians was also collected from the 52 users who allegedly used the app.

Do users even care?

#DeleteFacebook began trending on Twitter during the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, urging users to take a stand.

But the number of Facebook users remains steady, despite a survey following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and before the latest data scandal revealing that 81 percent of users have little to no confidence in Facebook protecting their data and privacy.

Even with all the security breaches, Facebook is a communication tool providing too much convenience for many to delete.

Impact on marketers

The data breaches – whether by hackers or third-party apps – have diminished the trust between consumers and marketers in most cases, resulting in users sharing less private information. This will make it harder for marketers to establish targeted ads, resulting in an increased cost to improve reach to relevant audiences. To establish (or re-establish) trust with consumers, it’s essential for marketers and advertisers to show transparency and accountability.

Are you safe?

To find out if your account has been breached, go to the Facebook Help Centre and access an article about Facebook’s recent security incident. If you scroll to the bottom, there is a message stating “Is my Facebook account impacted by this security issue?”. Here, you will find the answer regarding the status of your account.

So, what now? Do we log out of our accounts and call it a day?

It may not be that simple. Facebook has become so engrained in our culture that it’s almost impossible to delete. It has become a necessary platform to keep in touch with friends and family, used for work, education, and general engagement with the wider community. From organising events, sending group messages, to sharing thoughts, arguments and memories –  these simple conveniences are few of the reasons that make users turn a blind eye.

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