Facebook-Cambridge Analytica row: Digital data is irreversible, says expert

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While advertisers are unlikely to shift their budgets over the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica crisis, they are uneasy about the relationship.Two experts weigh in on the implications for Indian brands and consumers

Digital data is irreversible

Whether you like it or not digital data is there and is available everywhere. The question is what can be legitimately used and what cannot be. What will constitute violation of privacy and what will not. These are ethical questions that the data leak episode has raised and I think the debate will have to focus its attention on this issue.

Don’t forget the moment you choose to go online and be a part of a platform, you leave a digital data trail. There is no escaping this. Digital data is irreversible. And I’ve always said that there is no Fort Knox. Data resides with everyone. Look at the Aadhar data leaks in India. It raises uncomfortable questions. The information you’ve shared is not secure. That too with the government. The very thought instils fear in one’s heart. Also, because Aadhar is closer home and is needed for all your basic activities.

K V Sridhar
In this day and age of smart devices, you don’t even need to go online to leave a digital data trail. Your smart devices are connected, your laptop, computer, television sets, smartphones, building, streets, transportation etc are all connected. How can you escape this web? The moment you enter a shop or a bank or a mall or any other public place, you are advised to go for cashless payments. Tell me, where is the respite for a consumer or even an advertiser for that matter.

The digital ecosystem will continue to grow and there will be more people joining it as you go forward. So, an advertiser cannot escape it because he or she is chasing audiences at the end of day. What can, however, bring some semblance of order to this universe is the pressure from various quarters for safety from data theft and misuse. Facebook is already feeling the heat, which is why its CEO came forward, apologised and announced measures to safeguard data privacy. While the initiative has come after an ugly scandal broke out, hitting Facebook hard (its market capitalisation has eroded substantially), better late than never.

I am hoping that scandals such as the one involving Cambrige Analytica will increase self-awareness and self-regulation among people. The key about all digital platforms is that you are vulnerable the moment you are on them and the awareness of this at the individual level should be there. This will automatically inculcate a sense of propriety in the individual. He will seek ways and means to reduce his vulnerability to data theft and misuse. While it may not be fool-proof, the awareness of how vulnerable a person is in a digital world is the first step towards stopping its misuse.


and chief creative officer of HyperCollective
No #delete for Indian brands

Yes, the world’s most popular social media platform is witnessing its worst nightmare. Policymakers across the world including India have taken Facebook to task over the issue of data leaks. And why shouldn’t they?

The modus operandi of the scamsters have left everybody fuming. Like most platforms, Facebook has apps running that get access to user data when played. The misuse happened when an app developer sold the data available to him to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that used the data to influence elections.

Facebook’s error of judgement was its lack of transparency with users. Users simply do not know how their data is being used, which is a scary proposition. The second mistake was to take the legal certification of the app developer and Cambridge Analytica at face value. Which is why when Facebook announced safeguards last week, the first was to clampdown on the unrestricted access that app developers have to user data.

Rajiv Dingra
But does the matter end here? Far from it. As is visible, Facebook continues to face investor and government ire. The Indian government has already warned Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, that he’d be summoned if found interfering in India’s election process. As I write this piece, the government has already sent his company a notice asking what safeguards it has taken to protect Indian voters.

Globally, some high-profile exits such as that of Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla Inc, have happened. Companies such as Mozilla, Commerzbank of Germany and Sonos (sound system firm) have pulled out ads from Facebook. So yes, this is possibly Facebook’s darkest hour.

But will Indian brands down this road? I doubt it. India’s Facebook user base continues to grow and the #deletefacebook movement has made little or no dent here. One may argue that this is plain ignorance and naivete that has prevented people from voicing their opinions firmly. Whatever may be the reason, user engagement and growth have not ceased. And that is a reality, advertisers here have in front of them. While I do see users getting increasingly aware of the issue of data leaks, but advertisers have no reason to worry for now.

Facebook too has committed to a full audit of apps. These are reasonable assurances and given that marketers chase engagement and reach, I don’t think they will get off Facebook quickly. To sum up, most Indian brands in my opinion will continue engaging with Facebook and will wait  to see how matters unfold globally before taking a stand.
and chief executive officer of WATConsult, part of Dentsu Aegis Network

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