By Gokul Bhagabati

New Delhi–The speed at which global technology giants changed the way people lead their lives — the way they talk to each other or conduct businesses — without being concerned about any roadblocks was remarkable. But all that changed in 2018.

Scandals surrounding Facebook started surfacing in such higher frequencies that industry observers began questioning if the social media giant with over two billion users would be able to survive in the long term.

Leading the charge of the attack on Internet “monopolies” was American billionaire investor George Soros, who warned that social media companies can have adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy and that the days of the US-based IT giants were numbered.

Scrutiny of Facebook increased manifold since it revealed earlier this year how a London-based political consultancy, that worked for US President Donald Trump’s campaign, improperly got access to data of up to 87 millions users.

Appearing before a US Congress Committee in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal. In May, he appeared before the European Parliament to respond to questions surrounding the company’s business practices, its plans on fighting misinformation on the platform and protecting user privacy among others.

While Facebook was slammed for revealing the Cambridge Analytica scandal years after it got to know of it, similar allegations of inaction were also levelled at the social media site for its role in the spread of false and divisive messages by Russian-linked accounts during the 2016 US presidential election.

However, the year gave Facebook more opportunities to report fresh incidents of data breaches. In September, it said that a breach had exposed data of 50 million people and then, in December, it reported another security breach where nearly 6.8 million users risked their private photos being exposed to third-party apps.

In between, Facebook found itself refuting serious claims of wrongdoings in giving access to user information to certain device makers, including China-based Huawei, and certain large technology companies and popular apps like Netflix or Spotify.

Internet giant Google also reported voluminous data leakage this year. In October, it reported that accounts of up to 500,000 users of its social network Google Plus were exposed between 2015 and March 2018. But Google chose not to report the issue partly because it feared regulatory scrutiny and reputational damage, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

For the second time this year, Google said that a bug exposed accounts of 52.5 million Google Plus accounts, prompting the company to shut down the service in April 2019, four months ahead of schedule.

Besides, Facebook and Google, a series of data breaches involving other large organisations including Marriott (affecting 500 million guests), Quora (100 million users), Cathay Pacific Airways (9.4 million passengers) gave common and not-so-common people the jitters.

But the implementation of the long-awaited General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), designed to give citizens in the European Union (EU) more rights to control their personal information, brought some cheer to users of technology services as non-compliance of GDPR rules can cost a company a fortune — 20 million Euros or four per cent of its annual turnover.

The impact of GDPR implementation, however, did not stay limited to EU citizens alone as it added weight to demands of similar legislation in other countries around the world, including India, which faced criticism from some quarters for using Aadhaar data for delivery of certain services.

In an effort to define the legal boundaries of the use of personal data, India had earlier this year brought out the draft of a data protection bill.

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee submitted the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 in July, suggesting amendments to the Aadhaar Act to provide for imposition of penalties on data fiduciaries and compensations to data principals for violations of the data protection law.

While upholding the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in September stated that private entities or individuals cannot avail Aadhaar data to provide consumer services, while directing the Centre to bring a robust data protection law.

So even as breaches exposed data of millions of users around the world, 2018 gave more voice to demands for greater privacy protection. (IANS)

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