The day we stop knowing where our data is

Monday, 23 april 2018 | Brenda Rodríguez López

Every day, and often involuntarily, we share information in social media about where we are, what our interests are, who our friends are, what our musical preferences are, where we spend our spare time, what we spend the money on,... This information is as valuable and coveted as sensitive and vulnerable. The data is becoming a precious asset and can change the course of our destiny. Scandals like the one of Ashley Madison or the most recent one of Cambridge Analytica reopen the debate about the Big Data phenomenon against the limits of privacy. Do we know what data we are sharing? Who is watching it over? In whose hands does it finish? How can it be used?


The large volume of data available on the Net, their heterogeneity and complexity, and the improvement in the ability to be quickly processed and analyzed have been reflected in the birth of a new business in which our most bland information becomes a star product. Brands can get to know through these data what our preferences and consumption patterns are, and, in this way, offering us just what we want, at the time that we need it and in a way that it is adapted to our tastes and emotions. At first glance, it might seem that both consumers and firms benefit in a balanced way from this situation. However, not all the members on the Net perform a fair play. Our privacy could be in check. How far are we willing to share data? How far are we willing to obtain it to get to know our target better?

A scandal with many numbers 

Citizens become a constant source of information. We spend most of the time connected to the Internet. Although we are not always aware of it, our data is being registered at all time. This data is vulnerable and as difficult to guard and protect as it is to stop producing it. One of the last subjects who verify the scope that can have this premise has been the own Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Owner, President and Delegate Adviser from Facebook. He has been recently called to testify in The US Senate and The US House of Representatives, after the outbreak of the scandal of "The Cambridge Analytica Files".

The reason for this call is dispelling the doubts about how the British consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, could have accessed to the data of about 87 million users of the platform through an application. Like other similar firms, the mission of Cambridge Analytica was to analyze data and segment it into groups and then be used by companies, advertisers or other organizations. In this case, newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian published that the leak would have allowed the company to exploit the private activity on social networks of a large percentage of the US electorate in order to develop techniques that would consolidate their work in the 2016 campaign of the President Donald Trump or predicting and influencing the voter’s choice at the ballot box. This situation has caused a crisis of trust on the social network and the consequent reopening of the debate on the data use and the limits of privacy.

Games, applications, tests, surveys or free wifi access portals. The data can be collected through a multitude of tools, at least, initially with our consent. Of course, the Cambridge Analytica example is at one extreme, but do we really know who has our data? What is it being used for? It is necessary to establish new “firewalls” that protect users and guarantee the proper use of the data.

The day we stop knowing where our data is

Building retaining walls for data

Next May 25th, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force, a regulation that aims to guarantee high standards of protection adapted to the digital environment and that will be mandatory in the European Union. Although their headquarters are in any country outside Europe, all companies operating in this territory will have to adapt to this new regulation that includes penalties that can reach in the most serious case up to 4% of the global annual turnover or  the amount of 20 million euros. Facebook does not escape from it either. On its blog, the company has published a series of measures that, according to them, are aimed both to comply with the law and to offer new protections for everyone, "no matter where you live”.  Will the changes set out by Facebook be enough to guarantee the data protection of its users?

Facebook is beginning to ask its users to review important information about the way that the platform uses data and makes decisions about their privacy. It is asking them questions about advertising, if they want that the platform uses the information obtained through their partners -the brands that are on Facebook-, for example, the data that is obtained thanks to the "like" buttons and that is used to show ads by relevance. If they have shared information related to politics, religion or relationships, it will also ask them if they want to continue sharing it or not.

The social network also claimed in the announcement of its facial recognition technology, that, as well as improving the experience on the platform, it can increase the user’s protection, because it allows to identify if other people is using their image. However, this function is “completely optional”. Among other measures, Facebook also announced improvements in the tools to erase, export and download data in a simple way and a special commitment to the protection of adolescents. However, the measures adopted by the company have critics, there are many who consider them timid, lukewarm or insufficient.

The development of new regulations and measures to protect privacy on social platforms are not the only alternatives proposed so far. Some have seen the possible solution to the problem of data in the blockchain. This technology allows monetizing that information that is now seen as the new "oil" of the economy. Like the article “Plata por data”: la fórmula que quiere inquietar a Facebook y LinkedIn from El País RETINA explains, new projects based on the blockchain such as the Wibson cryptocurrency, the Wibcoin, or a blockchain protocol called Profede can be part of the recipe that allows users to recover the control of their data.

At The CEU IAM Business School we are committed to an educational training aligned and adapted to the new realities and trends of our society. For this reason, among the different degrees that are offered, we find from an Advanced Data Protection Officer (DPO) Programme Online, for preparing the professionals that will guarantee the compliance of the new European regulation, to a Big Data and Visual Analytics Executive Program (this degree is also offered online), in which they work from the perspective of the data as a strategic asset, always from a strong ethical commitment.