Is social network privacy an oxymoron?
By definition, a social network is an internet environment that allows you to create content and share it with other users. Precisely that community character is what makes us venture to create profiles in which we collect our hobbies, interests or even our daily activities.
We regularly share and publish photos, comment on information published by other people and interact with them by providing personal information.
In this environment, do we think we can keep control of everything we disclose?
The answer seems obvious. Sometimes, even the promoters of these networks do not need to know our data.
But there is more. On many occasions, this information (including personal data) is used by third parties and becomes a currency for transactions in illegal ways.
That is when we are shocked and shout: “I thought this … I thought that …”. And then we divert attention to the companies to which we have permitted to manage our online lives.
There are few published cases of massive personal data leaks from users – without their consent.
We could say that, from this point of view, when this occurs, we have clear and unpleasant evidence of where our data will go.
These are the risks users are exposed to while using social networks
The risks of sharing personal data can be countless. These are risks that are embedded in the very conception of social networks. By definition, a social network implies sharing. A concept that is completely the opposite of maintaining privacy.
When a person shares with another person a fact that only she knows, that multiplies the risks by two. Imagine when that same data (photography, comment or personal information) is shared with hundreds of thousands or millions of people.
Some will say that the information that is usually disclosed on social networks is irrelevant or that it does not add value to anyone regarding privacy, but they are making a big mistake.
The information we publish on social networks says a lot about us and can be used to define, for example, personality profiles, political affinities, contacts, location, etc.
Only by way of enumeration could we mention the possibility of knowing our geolocation through the parameters of the photographs that we upload, our daily routines through the changes of state that we reflect on our accounts, the friends that we add, trust groups, the connection we make with other applications, etc.
All this allows not only to make sociological profiles of groups of people but also provide useful information to deduce, for example, passwords that we use in the accounts we have associated.
The case of Facebook
Facebook was fined $ 5 billion for violating the privacy of its users by transferring their data without prior consent to the Cambridge Analytical company.
Much has been said about this case, but little has been said that Facebook had already provisioned in its results the possible amount of this fine.
Mark Zuckerberg, at the end of last year, reserved an economic item aimed at addressing the payment of a sanction that was expected to be substantial.
Economically, it is something they had assumed and for a “technological monster” such as Facebook, it is not too high. About 8% of its annual turnover.
Perhaps the relevance of the fine imposed by the Federal Trade Commission is found in the details of the ruling that sets forth the future obligation of Facebook to document any decision regarding the use of personal data of services or applications intended to launch market.
Some voices indicate that both in Europe and in the USA, measures are also being taken with other great technological players. It is in this context that virtual assistants appear.
With the proliferation of virtual assistants, we face an even bigger problem. These are machines that have been designed to provide an alternative interface model to services and devices that we usually use.
But who are the main manufacturers of such devices?
The answer is immediate: those who have more information about us and who to date only acquired by direct interaction, through mobile terminals or smartphones from which they could only extract what we intentionally provided them.
These same social networks are able to capture the sound of our environment, our tone of voice when giving instructions or our reactions to any response, and with that, they can determine many things.
Personal facts, transcription of its content, extraction of information from the ambient sound, impersonation of our voice by imitation, insert malware into audio files, sound frequencies to capture information, what they do with ultrasonic frequencies, and more.
All those determinations provide us with elements to ask more and more about those who work in cybersecurity.
Recently, Google has been sanctioned for recording 0.2% of the conversations of its voice assistants. According to the technology giant, the objective is simply to improve the quality of the service. And this is only the beginning.
How social networks sort of tell us their plans?
The conditions of use of social networks are part of the previous steps that we must accept to make use of the services they offer us. Without prior acceptance of these conditions, we will not be part of the network.
We are condemned to decide whether or not we accept the rules that define what data they will collect, for what purpose they will use them, with whom they will be authorized to share them, etc.
These are the usual “Terms and Conditions” that – and here comes why we are not properly informed – we mostly accept without even reading.
More than 90% of subscribers never read the terms of service and more than 40% of social network users never modify the privacy conditions of their devices.
Regulation ensures that we are properly informed and that the data is used correctly, but we must know what data we are willing to provide so that they are collected by third parties. And with that, we must be aware of the risk.
A vast majority of society relies on social networks almost blindly. We could even say more, we are hostages of their services. Those who are not part of the best known social networks are qualified as technological cave people.
The profile of social networks is used to strengthen ties of friendship or family, or even to access jobs when they are reviewed by HR departments. Our fingerprint grows with every “Like” we give.
Perhaps when we use this type of networks we should think about issues such as who can access our information, what information our contacts can pass to third parties and so on.
The use of tools for the protection of personal data in the style of a firewall is one of the alternatives that the market is considering to protect us against this “party of information”.
There are multiple applications. These are proposals that show your concern for privacy from a perhaps more general perspective.
In general, these types of solutions suffer from the difficulty of having to be installed in our devices, which forces a very strict control of each one of them, and this limits their effectiveness.
Unfortunately, and for the moment, we must say that there are no transversal solutions that act as ubiquitous proxies against the multiple social networks with which we interact.
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Luis Miranda is an award-winning journalist and the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda News. His career spans over 20 years and almost every form of news media. He writes about environmentalism, geopolitics, globalisation, health, corporate control of government, immigration and banking cartels. Luis has worked as a news reporter, On-air personality for Live news programs, script writer, producer and co-producer on broadcast news.