Letter to the Editor: The Hidden Face of Technology

Technology is an essential part of our lives today and few can imagine living without. We achieved a lot with the help of technology. For example, we have the possibility to travel, keep in touch with friends on the other side of the earth and cure many illnesses. It means more freedom and choices for people but at the same time we must consider the social imbalance, more specifically, the boundaries where, when, why to stop. If not worse days are ahead of us! Especially with the metamorphic changes taking place and that will continue to take place. Can you imagine living in an environment with semi-conscious devices? Deployed at your leisure but with a cost! That cost is the customized service you receive from those devices. For a device to provide customized service, some information needs to be provided. When you do so, bingo! You are now vulnerable-because someone has your information. The growth of that information is proportional to the services you are getting. Who has them? The service providers, such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple … the list goes on.

Therefore, we need to learn some lessons from the history. There were a number of them, but the first eye-opener was the AOL’s release of private data of 20 million customers back in June 2006. The data was big and good enough to track Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, GA. Although they have changed the identifiable user name to a random number, and analysis to all searches of a single user lead to the additional data of friends which was good enough to put a reliable picture in perspective. AOL could not stand the heat, as a result had to shut down the research center and fire the CIO. Their initial objective was to benefit from academic researchers. It was seen as an opportunity for better PR. However, they did not realize that they have released a massive amount of unauthorized data without permission. This is the case that underlined the importance of data protection. However, when the benefits are overwhelming it is easy to look other way, similar to the Facebook data breach, which shock up the world.

In 2011-12 an internal request to get the attention of the high-level administrators to the use of end-user data being exposed to the third party developers (11%) was ignored. Similar to AOL, they also treated it as an effective PR and were not concerned about the data once it is taken from servers. Handing the massive amount of data over to Cambridge Analytica under the scope of Global Science Research to get additional apps to enhance the user platform at the expense of users and their friends did cross the ethical boundaries as well, not to mention the danger associated with it.  In addition, there was no auditing to control the exposed data. As a result, more than 10 million end-user profiles floated around the globe.

Now it is time for end users to be internet conscious. Yes, it is necessary for our daily activities but without jeopardizing our safety. As the saying goes “let’s not poke out the eyeball, while trying to fix the eyebrow.” Make sure to read the fine lines and policies. I am sure the problems we have summarized are not the first ones and will not be the last one.

Coskun Bayrak, PhD.