tion infrastructure. Does creating more
languages in problem-specific forms
make it harder to find enough programmers who know infrastructure built in
these problem-specific forms? Is it harder or easier to train new programmers to
maintain that infrastructure?
˲ Intellectual property is embodied in
programming. Programs are intellectual property. When intellectual property
is defined in terms of thousands of lines
of code, IP can’t be easily carried away in
someone’s head. But when the IP is in the
language, which can be learned and carried in a single person’s head, the definition of what’s protected and what was just
learned seems complicated. If a programmer moves from Company A to Company
B, and that programmer has learned the
problem-specific language in Company
A, and then re-implements it in Company B, was intellectual property stolen?
I love that this article makes all of
software soft again; everything is malleable, down to the programming language itself. As an education researcher, I know learning programming is a
struggle. New problem-specific languages may increase the challenges
for computing education research.
Because of the value of these kinds
of languages, the new research questions raised are worth investigating.
What Went Wrong?
‘Sharing’ Data with
March 28, 2018
The road to the Cambridge Analytica/
Facebook scandal is strewn with failures.
There’s the failure to protect users’ privacy, the failure to protect voters, and
the failure to uncover the actions and
violations of laws that may well have affected the Brexit referendum and the
U.S. presidential election. The latter
two threaten the heart of democracy.
I want to focus on the failure to protect users’ privacy, which has the virtue
of being easy to unpack, even if its resolution is far from simple. This failure to
protect privacy has multiple parts.
First, there’s Facebook’s failure to
protect user privacy. Indeed, the company’s aim was quite the opposite.
Facebook believed “every app could be
social.” That meant giving broad access
not only to a user’s data, but also to that
of his “friends.” In 2013, Cambridge
University researcher Aleksandr Kogan
paid 270,000 Facebook users to take a
personality quiz (the money came from
Cambridge Analytica, but that’s another
part of the story). Doing so gave Kogan’s
app the ability to “scrape” information
from their profiles. In those days, Face-
book’s platform permitted the app not
only to access the quiz takers’ profiles
and “scrape” information from them;
the social network also allowed apps to
do the same to the profiles of the quiz
takers’ “friends”— 50 million of them.
Data from the friends would be collected unless the friends explicitly prohibited such collection. The ability to do
so was not easy; users were not told their
data would be shared if a Facebook friend
engaged an app that did such scraping.
To prevent collection, users had to first
find out that their friends’ apps would do
this, then configure their profiles to prevent such data sharing.
Then there’s Facebook’s failure to
take legal action after the company became aware the data of those 50 million
Facebook users had been provided to
Cambridge Analytica. This data transference violated Kogan’s agreement
with Facebook in acquiring the data.
When Facebook found out, it requested
Cambridge Analytica certify they had destroyed the user files; the Silicon Valley
company did not ensure Cambridge Analytica had done so. As we know, Cambridge Analytica did not comply. Facebook’s failure to ensure the files were
destroyed was failure number 2.
Finally, there’s Facebook’s failure to
inform the 50 million users whose data
was taken. There was a breach of contract between Kogan and Facebook, but
there was also a privacy breach: the profiles of 50 million Facebook users were
being used by Cambridge Analytica, a
British firm specializing in using personal data for highly targeted, highly personalized political ads. Facebook failed
to inform those 50 million users of the
breach. That was failure number 3.
Facebook is on the way to repairing
some of these failures. In 2014, Facebook limited the information apps
could collect on Facebook friends—
though not fully. Mark Zuckerberg said
Facebook will, belatedly, inform the 50
million Facebook users of the privacy
breach that happened in 2014.
But there are other failures as well.
The fourth is society’s, which hasn’t
been taking privacy particularly seriously. This isn’t universally true. In the
U.S., for example, the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) and the states’ Attorneys General have taken companies
to court when the firms fail to protect
users’ privacy or fail to follow their own
privacy policies. But their set of tools
for doing so is quite limited. There are
a handful of laws that protect privacy
in particular sectors. There are fines
if companies fail to live up to stated
privacy policies. There are data breach
laws. And there’s the ability to fine if actual harm has been caused.
The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica
case is garnering significant attention by
both the FTC and the states’ Attorneys
General. It helps that in 2011, the FTC
acquired a powerful tool when Facebook
signed a consent decree as a result of an
earlier privacy violation, which required
the company to make clear “the extent
to which [Facebook] makes or has made
covered information accessible to third
parties.” Did the fact that those 50 million “friends” had difficulty preventing
collection of their data constitute a violation of the consent decree? We will find
out. At a potential $40,000 per violation,
the consequence could be quite expensive for Facebook.
There’s a fifth failure that may well be
most important of all: our willingness
to trade data about ourselves for seemingly free services. That’s nonsense; services that manipulate how you spend
your time, how you feel, and whom you
vote for are anything but free. Maybe
it’s time to cut that connection? Some
things will be harder to lose—seeing
that photo of your nephews clowning at
breakfast, or getting updates from the
folks at your previous job—but you may
find an extra hour in your day. That’s an
hour to call a friend, take a walk, or read
a book. It sounds like a good trade to
me. I wouldn’t actually know; I value my
privacy too much, and never joined the
network in the first place.
Mark Guzdial is a professor in the Computer Science
& Engineering Division, and jointly in the Engineering
Education Research program, of the University of
Michigan. Guest blogger Susan Landau is a computer
scientist and cybersecurity policy expert at the Fletcher
School of Law & Diplomacy and the School of Engineering,
Department of Computer Science, Tufts University.
© 2018 ACM 0001-0782/18/6 $15.00