Security

Facebook's failure to protect personal data is irresponsible

"Every sort of institution, business, public, private sector, whatever the case may be, is being attacked right now by some malicious actor," said Mercury Communication's Jake Dilemani.

Jake Dilemani, senior vice president of Mercury Communication, recently talked with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about cybersecurity issues surrounding the 2016 presidential election, and why it's the responsibility of business and government to restore trust and prevent further issues. Here's part of their conversation:

Dilemani: What businesses should learn is that they're not immune. As what we're seeing now, every sort of institution, business, public, private sector, whatever the case may be, is being attacked right now by some malicious actor. The issue is business, because government so far has been slow to address some of this stuff. Business has to take up the mantle here, and do something about it. Some businesses are more proactive than others, some companies are more transparent than others. You have some companies that are suffering massive data breaches due to hacking, due to cyberattacks. We only find out several months after the fact. The problem there, obviously beyond just the material issue of stealing sensitive personal data, is that it erodes trust amongst people in corporations, and it compounds what is happening now on a level, probably unprecedented in terms of what people think of their government institutions, the media, etc. No one trusts anything anymore basically is the point. No one knows what to believe, who to believe, everyone's in their own little bubble.

To have companies that have millions, tens of millions of customers in this country, being willy-nilly with their information, and then not disclosing it in a timely fashion is irresponsible, possibly criminal, so a company's going to do a better job of that. I think that a lot of companies are responsible understand the risks here and do something about it, but they all need to do a better job. Government needs to step in and do something about it too. A lot can be said about what this administration is doing on a national level to thwart some of these attacks and to deal with them and also to deal with the companies that have not been transparent about what's happened with their data, et cetera. There's a lot (that) needs to be done.

SEE: Defending against cyberwar: How the cybersecurity elite are working to prevent a digital apocalypse (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

It goes without saying that Facebook, Twitter, et cetera, the social media companies, need to do a better job of policing the content on their sites, protecting people's data et cetera. The issue is how you do that. There's been a lot of back and forth, lot of talk come out of DC, hearings et cetera, about what Facebook, in particular, should be doing to better police the content. At the end of the day, I know that they would probably say otherwise and they have. They are a media company. Tons of people get their news off Facebook — all different walks of life, all ages, races, no matter where you live, social media, on Facebook.

They're not going to the (The Washington Post). They're not going to (The New York Times) website, they're not going to their local newspaper website. They're going to Facebook. They're seeing what people are posting. One problem is that it's an echo chamber. You're seeing the same stuff that you already believe, and it just reinforces whatever those beliefs are, so you're not cutting yourself off from other viewpoints. The other is, is what they're reading even true? I hate the term fake news, but there are a lot of fake news out there. It's not the fake news that the president would have you believe, but it's actual fake news. It's not real stuff, and how do you police it? That's seems like a mammoth task.

SEE: Electronic communication policy (Tech Pro Research)

That said, Facebook is a mammoth company, and needs to do a better job. They can't keep claiming they're not a media company. People are getting their news from you. You're a media company. It's clear, this nation's intelligence community has said there was Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. By the way, it also trickled down to the congressional race. It gets far less coverage, but that happened as well. The same sort of tactics that were employed against Hillary Clinton's campaign were employed against Democratic congressional campaigns across the country.

There's no doubt that the Russians interfered, there's no doubt that it had an effect on the election. I don't know if anyone can 100% say it had an effect on the outcome of the election, but it had an effect. When you look at the margins in some of the states, the three states that put Trump over the edge, you can certainly make the conclusion that putting some money behind some Facebook ads and ginning up fake controversies in those states did affect the outcome. But it's without question. There was foreign interference in our elections. Our nation's intelligence communities said so. Everyone else seems to agree. People on both sides of the aisle seem to agree, and to say otherwise, your head's in the sand, you don't know what you're talking about.

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Image: iStock/chombosan

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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