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Major data breaches continue to happen across social media platforms, and there are no signs that this massive abuse of user privacy is going to end anytime soon. Within weeks of Facebook finally acknowledging that it had been hit with a massive data hack that affected more than 500 million users, LinkedIn admitted that it, too, had been hit with a similar type of data hack also impacting nearly 500 million individuals. And these are just two of the most recent data hacks – just about every month, there seems to be some scandalous new data hack involving the world’s most popular social media platforms.
Social media response to data hacks
And what are the big social media companies doing about it? Well, not much, it seems. After each major hack, they promise to “plug up the holes” and make their platforms more secure. And, once news of the hack hits the mainstream media, they swear up and down that no private information had actually been obtained or manipulated. LinkedIn, for example, still refuses to call what happened a “data hack.” Instead, they claim that it was simply a major “data scraping” operation, in which publicly available information was scraped by nefarious bots or hackers.
But those kinds of excuses really don’t hold up to closer scrutiny. For example, take the case of the latest Facebook hack. Facebook itself still doesn’t really know what happened, or how the hackers got the information. All they know is that they were blindsided by a massive attack on their data servers and that a lot of private information got hacked – including phone numbers of users and sensitive password information. And not just any phone numbers, either. One phone number that the hackers got was that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Sound familiar? Think back to the latest Twitter hack, in which the hackers broke into the private Twitter account of CEO Jack Dorsey and started sending out tweets in his name. When that kind of thing happens to a rank-and-file Twitter user, the response is usually a collective yawn. However, when it happens to one of the most influential people on the planet, people take notice. Clearly, things are escalating here.
Who is to blame?
Either the hackers have become more and more brazen, or there is something else going on. Maybe, just maybe, the social media platforms have been so focused on metrics like growth and engagement that they have made security an afterthought at best. Instead of building services and functionality with a security-first mindset, they are adding security features on at the very end. Or, even worse, they are forgetting about security entirely until a major hack reveals their full lack of security measures.
Facebook, for its part, has become so powerful and arrogant that it no longer even thinks that it has to inform users about these hacks. In the case of the latest hack – affecting 533 million people! – Facebook has said that it does not plan on notifying specific users that had been impacted by the hack. And it certainly isn’t going to tell users to tighten up all their privacy settings and reduce their time on the platform. That, after all, would be bad for business.
Accountability needs to be the new normal
Quite simply, social media platforms should be held more accountable for these types of hacks. It would be impossible to imagine a major hospital or bank getting hit by a hack and not informing users of it. So why should Facebook get a free pass here? There should be a huge uproar from users about this. They should demand more accountability from the likes of Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Dorsey. And, if that accountability is not forthcoming, then they should either boycott or leave the platform entirely. That might be the only step possible to put the big social media companies on notice that major data breaches and invasions of user privacy are no longer socially acceptable. It’s one thing for our data to be used and abused by advertisers, and another thing entirely for our data to be used and abused by hackers. This has got to stop.