privacy

In the Next Presidential Election, Your Facebook Data Will Be Used Against You

The "Cambridge Analytica" scandal is a terrifying look at how shady research firms can use your personal data to manipulate your vote in the 2019 presidential race.
March 22, 2018, 1:14pm
Illustration by Adam Noor Iman

Let's face it, Facebook these days is only really good for the odd photo album and ridiculous quizzes like "Who's your celebrity lookalike?" or "What would you life be like during the New Order?" But those dumb quizzes are actually more important than you think, because each time you complete one of them, all of your personal information can be packaged-up and sold-off to some third party.

Here in Indonesia, what happens with our data on Facebook really matters. We have the fourth-largest number of Facebook users worldwide living in a country with incredibly poor internet security.

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One recent leak occurred in 2017 when a man was arrested for selling 13 gigabytes of personal data skimmed from a bank's priority customers, apartment owners, and luxury car owners, to third parties. The data was sold off at Rp 350,000 for every thousand customers, and Rp 1.1 million for every 100,000. Then there was the panic over the possible breach of a government server containing all of our national identification data. The government has denied that such a breach took place, but it still left people shook.

The use of Facebook data to sway political elections hit the press again when reports surfaced that 50 million US citizens had their personal information scraped by the shady analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to try to push voters toward Donald Trump in the US election.

With our own election right around the corner, it raises an uncomfortable question: could Indonesia's 130 million Facebook users be next? The company was already hired by an unidentified political party in the aftermath of Gen. Suharto's fall, where they worked on a candidate's campaign in 1999 and "played an important role in managing the robust feelings present in the populace."

Facebook data is particularly dangerous. The social media site knows far more about your life than any government office. By analyzing our likes and shares, analytics firms can figure out our political views and target us with ads playing to our biases and fears. Facebook basically knows too much, and whoever gets their hands on that data can really do some damage.

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In today’s elections, proposing social programs is no longer important. It’s all about how a candidate convinces their supporters that they're the correct choice, and the easiest way to do that is to make people doubt the credibility of other candidates, Sirojudin Abbas, the director at the Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting, told me. And what's a better tool for convincing people than social media?

“In those situations, social media is at risk of being exploited as a way to find out the users’ preferences,” Sirojudin said.

Sirojudin told me that he has seen the increase in frequency and volume of political ads on social media since 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election and the 2014 presidential election. “Especially on Facebook,” he said.

Although there have been a variety of cases related to data breach, many people still don’t understand how risky it is to trust social media with our detailed, personal information, said Blandina Lintang, a researcher from ELSAM, a human rights advocacy group based in Jakarta.

“We must realize that we can’t put everything about ourselves on Facebook,” Lintang told VICE. “It has your data from the past and they can analyze it. After that, they will hand it to a third party, either for profit or political interest.”

Lintang also said that the laws in Indonesia still doesn’t protect people’s privacy. Sure, we have a government regulation on system providers and electronic transactions that regulates data security. But the regulation doesn’t mean much without the support from government agencies. We don’t even know what the newly created National Cybersecurity Agency (BSSN) does, because their definition of cyber security is still pretty unclear.

Another important thing about data privacy is the ability to control what information that we can and can’t share to public—which is ironically difficult to do in this era of "big data" and "digital revolutions." The country needs to take real action, such as making policies that allow and encourage people to control what they post on social media, experts told me.

“If we see it in the perspective of human rights, privacy is fundamental,” Lintang told me. “The state need to make sure they can protect those rights through regulation that makes the data owner to ‘control’ what they do.”

There's a lot we can learn about the Facebook scandal. With the presidential election just a little over a year away, there's a real possibility that what you put on social media is being used by research institutions, political campaigns, and data firms without our consent. Want to protect yourself? Here's a guide by Motherboard on how to keep your Facebook account and still maintain a sense of privacy. But if that's not enough then just delete your Facebook. Seriously. Just do it.