June 20, 2019 | 75° F

Rutgers professor discusses online privacy amid Cambridge Analytica scandal

Photo by Pixabay |

Juggling a social media presence and privacy can be difficult. Norah Kerr-McCurry, a professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations, advises students keep their information basic. PIXABAY

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has received immense criticism for not taking more action to protect its user data — with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook being shared across the nation. 

There has since been a rising curiosity on how to protect one’s personal data across all social media platforms. Norah Kerr-McCurry, a professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations, focuses on how social media is used in the workplace and its ethical implications for employee rights. 

As many online profiles request some personal information, Kerr-McCurry said that some information is simply too valuable to put on any social media platform. Not publishing some basic information about oneself online can help to avoid any theft or abuse of personal data.

“According to one prominent study from the field of re-identification research, the vast majority of Americans can be identified with only three pieces of information: gender, zip code and date of birth,” Kerr-McCurry said in an email. “Something as simple as not putting your date of birth on an online profile can go a long way toward protecting your identity.”

She said it is important for people to learn about certain techniques on social media, such as privacy, transparency and control of data that is visible to anyone and susceptible to hackers. Reading and completely understanding user terms — whether it be for personal or professional use — is critical. 

Organizations like the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which sets ethical standards of privacy for advertising companies to follow, are important to be aware of, Kerr-McCurry said. The alliance provides transparency for consumers regarding advertising. It has become crucial for people to know who is looking at their information, as well as be able to prevent personal details from being shared on the world wide web. 

During the last few years, students have become more aware of the importance of social media and have taken more caution about how they use it, she said. In both the workplace and in the interconnected world, social media contains an easily accessible version of an individual that should be handled with caution.

“I think that students have become more discerning in what they share online as they realize that the information can be used in ways that they do not intend,” Kerr-McCurry said. “Students should know that employers often will perform an online search — students should be particularly careful with images that they share, even with tools like Snapchat which may lull users into thinking, well it goes away!”

Kerr-McCurry did not wish to comment on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. She said, though, that it does point out and emphasize a much bigger problem in social media. That is the problem of being unable to escape a personal bubble, "the filter bubble," that platforms like Facebook have created. 

“We all need to learn how to assess the credibility of information based on its source," she said. "This skill is taught in many classes, and we all need to understand that what we find online when we search for something may be what the algorithm determines we want to find — we're in a filter bubble.”   

Jacob Turchi

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