Big Data

User privacy and data management: Changes to expect in light of the Facebook debacle

TechRepublic's Jason Hiner and Dan Patterson discussed what lies ahead for major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon now that regulators and the public are focused on privacy.

After the revelations about Facebook's failures to protect user data, TechRepublic editor-in-chief Jason Hiner spoke with Dan Patterson about what lies ahead for tech companies, including increased scrutiny from governments and consumers, and potential consequences.

Watch the video above, or read a transcript of the conversation below:

Patterson: The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story has been one of the largest cloud stories to hit the mainstream media, but of course, the story is much bigger than just Facebook and just Cambridge Analytica. Through digital transformation, almost every company is using the cloud or the multi-cloud in a number of different ways...Jason, I love stealing your phrase, all the time, that "data is the new oil," but it is true and you have really seen the evolution of data and the cloud as well as these social companies. What is your takeaway? We are at a real pivotal moment, for again, not just Facebook, but for the cloud as a whole.

Hiner: Yeah. I didn't invent that phrase but I say it a lot of course, because it really is the thrust of the age that we're moving into, in the tech industry. The three companies that are disrupting everything, and are changing the way society works, the way the tech industry is moving, and the way that business is gonna do business in the years of ahead are, of course, Facebook, Amazon, and Google. And they're really five years or more ahead of everybody else, and that's why they're just gobbling up industries and disrupting the world. They've gotten a free pass so far, from mostly, with only a few exceptions, from governments, from the public, from business and that's really coming to an end, and it's a natural evolution. It makes sense because they are making all of this money and acquiring all of this influence on the back of the data that they have on all of us, right?

And their freedom kind of ends, where our nose begins, as the saying goes and so, they are doing stuff, and they're getting to the point where several of the things are against our interests, right? When it comes to the way we think of our own security, our own privacy, our own financial well-being in some cases, even our own societal, political views about the way society's organized. And so, what does that mean, right? That's the big question. Where does this all go from here? You've reported on that a lot. You've reported on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of course since the beginning, but now we're reaching the point where this is gonna become a major, major issue for them, for elections, for regulations, for society, for business.

SEE: Cambridge Analytica's Facebook game in politics was just the beginning, the enterprise was next (TechRepublic)

Patterson: And all of those costs get passed down initially to business and then to consumers. So Facebook's attitude has been one of, at least their PR has been, "Well, jeez, yes, this happened, but we were really naïve and now we're less naïve so we're doing things to stop some scraping that's occurred on our platform," and this, of course, happens on every social platform as well as every cloud platform. Is that a right way to think about the point we're at now, where maybe we all where kind of naïve before and of course these things can happen, but in retrospect it's a lot easier to see some of the misuses of data? Is naiveté a good way of looking at the previous age and maybe more cynical or at least more knowledgeable, the age we're entering into now?

Hiner: It's a good question. Zero percent naïve, I think. Facebook has been, I think that they ... And Google too, especially those two, I think that they didn't care about the consequences, to be honest, and they spurned the consequences and they thought we'll figure it out when it happens. We'll figure out those problems, we're not gonna try to think of all these inevitabilities and try to plan against it, we're just gonna do what we need to do to make the mission that we have, Google indexing all the world's information, Facebook connecting all of the world's people, and we'll figure out what happens when we get there. Not a great way to do business when you're dealing with things that are this society transforming, and we're dealing with the consequences of that now. Some of the first consequences right? There's a lot more consequences to come on these things.

But what they're gonna deal with from this point forward, is they're making all of their money on the backs of the data they have on all of us and so all of us are putting the pressure on them saying we're starting to get uncomfortable with what they know and how they're using it. And so the demand inevitably is gonna be that they're gonna have to be a lot more transparent about what data they are collecting, how they are using it, how they are monetizing it, and then what we can do to take some of that back or to consent or not consent to some of the ways that our data is being used. The one that's the most forward looking, on this, is Facebook, not Facebook, Facebook has the least amount of disclosure on this, Google has the most.

SEE: EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policy (Tech Pro Research)

There's the Google dashboard where you can go, and you can see and understand a lot of the ways your data is used and what they have on you and you can change your settings. Amazon is kind of in the middle. Amazon has a lot of data on you, especially commerce data, and this is gonna come down on them, too, right? Because they're becoming more and more of player in the Google and Facebook world with the rise of Alexa and some of the other software and services they're offering. Facebook is the one that is the least transparent, always has been and is the one that is of course under the most scrutiny because they take so much and reveal so little.

And we've seen that in for example, the case in Europe of the guy who was doing a research paper, Max Schrems and Max told Facebook, "I want to see what all the data it is that you have on me so that I can talk about the way this is happening in the digital age," and he had to fight to get it but eventually he got 1,200 pages. That's right, 1,200 pages of paper that showed his digital trail on Facebook and eventually he looked at that stuff and said, "What? I don't think I gave you consent to do all of this." And so he then sued them, and has become a privacy advocate since then. That's the kind of thing that we're moving toward.

Patterson: Yeah, it's hard to see a data trail that is that long for one individual, and not know that the company setup structure data and semantic data in a way to create a trail like that, so it kind of throws a naiveté question out the window.

Of course, Google very similar has had to contend with abuse issues on some of the video content on YouTube, some of those are top 50 channels that are racking up half a billion views, it's very difficult for the companies to argue that they are not aware of the type of data going into the platforms. I'm glad you mentioned Amazon and Alexa there. What does this mean for the future of IoT? And especially the industrial internet of things, does this maybe threaten some of that?

Hiner: I don't think it does, because the train is already down the tracks on that. And a lot of it has already happened, but the security and privacy of the internet of things, the first generations of the internet of things, have been rather dubious. We've written a lot about that on TechRepublic, and ZDNet and it's now getting better, but you gotta remember, as you know, a lot of these internet of things devices, these are things that are gonna get out and they're gonna sit for five, 10 years right? And so they're gonna exist and they are already out there and they already have sort of these dubious privacy and security settings.

And so, the next generation of the internet of things is gonna be ... privacy and security are gonna be more integral to the design of these devices, but if we think that these issues are big now, you're right on it, Dan, this stuff is gonna get immensely more complicated, immensely more potentially dangerous, and potentially invasive when you have the internet of things. When you have sensors everywhere, when you have cameras everywhere. When you have the quantified self where people are tracking so much more data on themselves to better understand their behavior and be able to modify it, measure it, manage it.

It's gonna be a different world, and so it is very important. We are at a critical turning point where the internet of things is about to go from six billion devices, roughly in 2016, to over 25-billion by 2020. And so we are at this critical juncture where we need to figure out some of these questions, so that when we get to the IoT age, we have this better figured out because it's gonna get a lot more dangerous and a lot more potentially invasive.

SEE: Turning Big Data into Business Insights (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Patterson: Yeah, there's a big data freight train on its way. Fortunately we have tons of analysis on TechRepublic to help make sense of it. Jason, what are some of best tips, cheat sheets, downloads, e-books and guides that we have on TechRepublic about IoT, big data, Facebook and the future of privacy?

Hiner: Yeah great. So, we have some really great stuff that we do across ZDNet and TechRepublic every month. We have a special feature, we call it, or a special report that we do on the most important topics in tech. We started doing this in 2012, the very first thing we did was the internet of things, that was the very first topic that we took on in January 2012 I should say, and in January 2012 we called it machine to machine 'cause that was really ... internet of things was kind of a new phrase and it was very nascent, very few companies had dealt with it. Now we're doing for May of 2018, we're doing this topic again and we're looking at the enterprise internet of things and of course, anytime you talk about internet of things data, and then privacy and security are critical to it.

So check that out, don't miss that and then of course you can subscribe to newsletters, we have newsletters on the most important topics in tech on TechRepublic. And on ZDNet, we cover all the most important breaking news, what matters the most to leaders, to businesses, to professionals. So yeah, don't miss a thing. Follow us on social media as well.

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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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