Web Matters, Social Media Data and You

An iPhone home screen folder showing social media app icons, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. - these are all potential sources of personal data that can be exploited by bad actors.
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Web Matters TL:DR; on the misuse of personal data: If we want to protect ourselves from stifling regulation, the time to professionalise is now. Help us make this happen.

The shady practices of Cambridge Analytica etc. that have been revealed by the media over the last week are, sadly, not a surprise to many developers. It’s users who are shocked that what they feel is “their” online space is actually a massive data-gathering machine – and they have no clue where that data is being used.

The web community is beginning to see that the business models of social networks are at odds with their stated missions to connect people, and it’s hard to see whether “business as usual” can continue. It’s clear that action is required by all parties – social networks, data-driven companies, governments, watchdog organisations, users and web developers – to protect users’ data and restore some trust in the web. We all have a part to play.

Web Matters welcomes the imminent GDPR legislation which sets out a framework in which people’s privacy is honoured by default. While this only applies to EU citizens, we believe that similar legislation can and should be implemented across the globe to ensure that the data shared, harvested or implied by online systems is used only with the informed consent of users.

However, it would be easy to implement knee-jerk laws which could stifle innovation, chill free speech, unfairly burden companies and web workers, target the innocent and yet still allow shady practices to continue. Governments must work with the web industry to ensure common-sense legislation, which enables the best of the web whilst protecting against the worst, is developed.

Web Matters represents the people who make the web – not companies. We urge all those in the industry of building the web to consider the ethical implications of their work. We must all consider how systems and data could be used to the detriment of users and society.

If the web industry is to repair its tarnished reputation we must learn from other professions and engineering disciplines and raise our professionalism game. If we want to protect ourselves from stifling regulation, the time to professionalise is now.

Get involved

We’re planning an Ethics event in Edinburgh in May, which will no doubt include some insightful discussion on this very topic – details to follow soon. If you would like to speak at, or help organise, this event, then join our #event-ethics-may2018┬áSlack channel (here’s the Slack signup form). If you care about web ethics and the safeguarding of user data, then please join Web Matters and help us to shape our policies in this area.

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