• Data harvesting – the new face of cybercrime?

        • Daren Oliver, Managing Director of Fitzrovia IT, offers his opinion on the recent data breaches experienced by subscribers to social media and examines how data harvesting could be considered the new face of cybercrime.

          Whilst phishing and hacking remains a lucrative pastime for many cybercriminals, it seems that harvesting is quickly becoming the new buzz word on the cybersecurity block and cybercriminals are cutting a more corporate appearance.

          With social media and smartphones publicly displaying our personal data, and CCTV watching our every move, none of us are truly immune to having our personal information scrutinised and scavenged by data hungry, corporate beasts.

          Even if we aren’t fully active on social media ourselves, it seems that if our immediate connections are then it could make us fair game for having our information tapped into, downloaded, and used without our permission. In the case of Cambridge Analytica it appears that the masses of data it gathered was neither permissible nor ethical and was used to socially engineer and ultimately influence millions. Meanwhile, Facebook failed to protect its users by allowing the company to collect the data. So what can be done to preserve our privacy amid the unending stream of information that we have managed, either willingly or involuntarily, to post on the internet? 

          The introduction of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May will bring into force tougher and more stringent rules on the handling and storage of personal data. Initially Facebook indicated that the majority of its users will not be protected by GDPR, but Mark Zuckerberg quickly followed this up with an announcement that he intended for Facebook to make the same controls available everywhere, not just in Europe. But will adjusting our settings be enough and will the company be globally implementing GDPR’s more pertinent rules for consent, data control and the right to know how our data is being used? Facebook says ‘yes’ and although rules outside Europe could cause conflict, it intends for GDPR to apply to everyone.

          Meanwhile The Information Commissioner’s Office - the British government’s privacy watchdog - has opened an inquiry into Cambridge Analytica and its use of data following allegations about its ties with the Leave EU campaign and whether it, and similar companies, are a risk to voters’ rights.

          Utilising personal data and associated algorithms to specifically target an individual is not a new concept and is perhaps one of the main reasons why Facebook has enjoyed such unrivalled success. However, the unethical harvesting of millions of accounts to launch a series of politically charged snipers into the datasphere that hunted down specific personas to manipulate them is not only morally dubious but potentially dangerous.

          Perhaps the most sinister and worrying thing about unauthorised data harvesting is the potential it has for manipulating outcomes through a method that could be considered as systematic brainwashing. It’s this that could negatively affect the whole of humankind and cause catastrophic world-changing events. With this in mind, we should all be thinking more carefully than ever before about how we store our data and how we share information with each other.  

          www.fitzroviait.com

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