So­cial me­dia spy­ing

The Compass - - Editorial -

It’s nice to see those so­cial me­dia va­ca­tion pic­tures from your Face­book friends, maybe to talk back and forth through the mes­sag­ing func­tion about your boss, and just gen­er­ally live the elec­tronic life, right?

Well, maybe not.

The New York Times, among oth­ers — in­clud­ing a Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee — are dig­ging deep into the so­cial me­dia giant’s be­hav­iour, and ev­ery pass­ing day is a lit­tle bit darker. The sim­ple mes­sage? You may have Face­book friends, but Face­book is not one of them.

Face­book is in the busi­ness of sell­ing your data. Through a wild in­ter­pre­ta­tion of how it was keep­ing your in­for­ma­tion within the com­pany, Face­book ap­par­ently de­ter­mined that shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with its cor­po­rate “part­ners” was no dif­fer­ent from keep­ing that in­for­ma­tion in-house.

Here’s the lat­est piece of what the New York Times found after an­a­lyz­ing a trove of in­ter­nal Face­book doc­u­ments from 2017: “Face­book al­lowed Mi­crosoft’s Bing search en­gine to see the names of vir­tu­ally all Face­book users’ friends with­out con­sent, the records show, and gave Net­flix and Spo­tify the abil­ity to read Face­book users’ pri­vate mes­sages. The so­cial net­work per­mit­ted Ama­zon to ob­tain users’ names and con­tact in­for­ma­tion through their friends, and it let Ya­hoo view streams of friends’ posts as re­cently as this sum­mer, de­spite pub­lic state­ments that it had stopped that type of shar­ing years ear­lier.”

More than 150 “part­ners” — on­line re­tail­ers, car com­pa­nies, tech firms, en­ter­tain­ment sites — sought and re­ceived data about hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple a month.

It is a breath­tak­ing abuse of pri­vacy — one that Face­book down­plays, ar­gu­ing that the part­ners have to agree to use the in­for­ma­tion while fol­low­ing Face­book poli­cies.

There are peo­ple who be­lieve that Face­book is even more in­sid­i­ous than that: they claim that the so­cial me­dia giant is us­ing other tech­no­log­i­cal tricks, like randomly turn­ing on and off the mi­cro­phone in your com­puter and lis­ten­ing in on your con­ver­sa­tions to fine-tune tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing.

Face­book has de­nied that out­right, say­ing this in June 2016: “Face­book does not use your phone’s mi­cro­phone to in­form ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some re­cent ar­ti­cles have suggested that we must be lis­ten­ing to peo­ple’s con­ver­sa­tions in or­der to show them rel­e­vant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on peo­ple’s in­ter­ests and other pro­file in­for­ma­tion — not what you’re talk­ing out loud about.”

Now here’s a ques­tion: after ev­ery­thing else that’s cropped up about what the so­cial me­dia giant is do­ing, do you be­lieve them any­more? (We’re only half-kid­ding when we say that maybe you shouldn’t an­swer that ques­tion out loud in front of your com­puter.)

Ev­ery now and then, leg­is­la­tors around the world get to­gether to re­strict the ac­tions of a rogue state.

Maybe it’s time we started a dis­cus­sion about the kind of united front that should start ad­dress­ing abuses by a rogue com­pany.

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