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Commentary Culture

An open letter to that useless Facebook friend who shared your data

Commentary: Here's to the 0.017 percent of the population that ruined it for the rest of us. Congratulations. You're Patient Zero.

A laboratory worker with a sign in his hand biohazard

Claire Reilly/CNET/Getty

The Facebook scandal has taught me a valuable lesson this week. When the inevitable zombie-virus apocalypse hits us, the whole world will be infected because a few people didn't wash their hands.

No matter how prepared we are, how many vaccinations we've stockpiled or how many faceless soldiers we have ready to deploy in our futuristic aqua-tanks, the outbreak will come down to Patient Zero -- the idiot who pets the radioactive monkeys at a military-run lab and then doesn't wash their hands before dinner.

In Australia, we have 53 of them. Except these people didn't sneeze radioactive monkey DNA onto fellow citizens on a peak-hour train. They signed up for an app, handed over their friends' personal data and caused a data outbreak that hit 310,000 innocent people across the fine country of Australia.

It makes zero sense. Australia is an island nation fiercely protective of its biosecurity. No biological material crosses our border without intense scrutiny. But when it comes to digital security, we were undone by 53 people.

Fifty-three people. Fifty-three walking meat-bags signed up to the "This is Your Digital Life" app, but in return that app got access to a mind-boggling 310,000 friends and friends of friends which it sold to Cambridge Analytica.

The numbers are insane. Let's do the maths. Fifty-three people, 310,000 users and their data. So 0.017 percent of Australians affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal actually signed up for the quiz in the first place! Thanks, guys.

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It's three weeks since Day Zero and the world is reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. After the profile data of an estimated 87 million Facebook users worldwide was improperly shared with data firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has faced overwhelming scrutiny on its privacy policies and been hauled before Congress to explain.

People all over the world signed into Facebook on Tuesday to find a message either saying their data is safe, or one of their chump friends compromised their entire Facebook profile by signing up to an app that "profiled" their personality traits. (Personality trait one? Easily tricked into selling personal info through gimmicky quizzes. Personality trait two: Likes cats.)

facebook-protecting-your-information

Facebook users saw one of two messages indicating whether their data was shared with Cambridge Analytica. 

Facebook

If you got the latter message, there's nothing you can do. You don't know which one of your friends signed up for the app (though we both know it was Cathy in Accounts), and how many other apps they shared your info with.

And so, dear Facebook user, despite your best efforts, you got infected. Your digital life has been breached. You're left to wander the fringes of society, scavenging for food and trading small trinkets for a pair of combat boots so you can fight in the Thundercage for a ticket to the Clear Zone.

The worst part is we knew this was coming. Those privacy narks out there (ahem, myself included) were the ones warning their friends on Facebook, "Don't use single sign-on! Don't sign up for that app! Stop liking so many pages -- who cares if that local business shares dank memes on your feed, it's not worth compromising your personal data!"

But no one listened. Just like the virologists warning about the Outbreak in the Before Times, our Cassandra-like calls fell on the deaf ears of hubristic Facebook friends who thought the world would always be safe and free.

Do you trust those Facebook friends? Would they sell you out for a cheap quiz or a few dank memes? Are you willing to be immuno-compromised by some mouth-breather you went to school with who doesn't know the difference between a data-mining app and a cutesy game that lets them mine candy-jewels on their desktop browser?

Look upon your friends, dear reader. Lest they bring about your downfall.

And to those 53 Australians? Damn you. God damn you all to hell!