written by: Adam Peach
The most recent article I wrote covers an internet hoax in which a man claimed individual people were “spying” on you in the name of “Facebook Security” and “Facebook Police”. It was obviously not true and just paranoid ranting, but caused some severe harassment and cyber-bullying for a few people.
As mentioned near the end of that article, there are entities “watching you” on facebook and other platforms such as Google – just not in the way the false conspiracy claimed.
Facebook and Google use IP info and metadata to track what kind of links you’re clicking on, who you’re interacting with, what you’re searching for, and so on. This data is gathered and stored and then used to create a “bubble” around you of things it “thinks” you’re interested in based on the data it has collected from you. This is why there is no standard Google anymore – no 2 people on different devices will get the same search results when looking for the exact same search terms. This is explained in great detail by Eli Pariser in his book “The Filter Bubble”.
Facebook in particular has grown to be the #1 source for news for most people today. With 1.79 Billion active monthly users (as of January 2017), one can imagine the kind of power in social engineering it can have if information is being filtered from us. Newspapers show all kinds of important stories on their front covers and within, not tailored to any specific person – but showing important events in the world for anyone interested to read it and form an opinion. This makes us aware of issues outside of our daily “bubble” we live in. By enforcing the “bubble”, Facebook and Google can filter what we see and prevent us from hearing about important issues that keep us aware of the world outside.
After the fiasco leading up to the US election in regards to the ongoing claims of a Russian Hacking, the battle wages on in terms of internet privacy, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of The Press. I’m referring to “fake news”and why we shouldn’t allow anyone to take any kind of “authoritative” position on what defines that term in our behalf.
One fact here is that the so-called “hacking” was actually a leak – not a hacking. It was a leaking of information from someone who had access to it (service provider, DNC insider, etc). Julian Assange of Wikileaks said multiple times including in a recent interview that the source of the leaked information was “not a state” or anyone working for any government parties of Russia or anyone else. That leaked information was uploaded by Wikileaks and it spread like wildfire! Again, keep in mind that this was leaked information and leaked emails. These were real emails. They were not fake. And the people spoke.
By making this a “hacking” situation and blaming “fake news” as a factor in shifting the election, the entities pushing against our rights such as Freedom Of Speech and Freedom of The Press gain momentum in the battle. Do you know what is really amazing about living in a democracy? That people who don’t like what their government is doing can vote against it. And they did. Obviously, this wasn’t the only factor in the election. For the purpose of this article, however, it is relevant.
Filtering news and information on Facebook, frankly, would be an act of social engineering. Yes, it has been happening for years now but the debate has changed in the name of “fake news”. People should have the option of seeing information and forming an opinion of their own – not have an “authoritative” entity or “focus group”. 3rd party entities or focus groups can be politically influenced the same as anything else and in the name of our rights we should speak out against this kind of filtering of information.
People can say very hateful, hurtful, damaging and threatening things and they should be reported and held accountable for what they say in whatever way necessary. However, this is Freedom Of Speech. Hate speech is damaging. People who freely use it on social media should be held accountable for it. But that doesn’t mean our rights have to be undermined. Rights that give power to people in important times such as elections in a democracy such as the one we live.
Some people drive drunk. It’s illegal and now socially unacceptable, but people will still do it. Should we ban all people from having cars? Absolutely not, that’s rediculous. We hold the drunk drivers responsible and deal with them in accordance to the law.
The same should apply for the internet. There has to be rules and guidelines but we also have to keep our rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of The Press. Don’t like what someone posts? Facebook allows you to make any specific post invisible to your news feed. You can report a post and it will be taken down if it breaks the rules or is offensive, or hatespeech. There are ways to deal with people who commit wrong-doing but we should not throw our rights away for that purpose.
Today, your computer, phone, television, gaming systems – even your car is on the internet. Literally tons of data is being collected from basically everything we do in life. Think about when you go to a popular location, such as a restaurant. Google users will know that in a lot of cases you will get a notification on your device recognizing where you are and ask you something like “Take a picture to show friends you were here?” Once you take a picture there and upload it, that data is stored called geotagging. As mentioned above, your car is on the internet now as well. Think about all of the wifi networks your car will be coming into contact with, geotag data being recorded same as a mobile phone.
This is where Big Data comes in. Big data is a huge growing industry in which extreme amounts of data is harvested from users and used for analytics and marketing purposes. It can also be used for healthcare purposes, fincances, and anything where analytic data is useful, really. While there are amazing uses for Big Data, there is still the concept that everywhere you go and everything you do in life is being stored and analyzed. An Unsettling concept, indeed. Controlling the ads and content you see day to day based on where you go, where you shop, who you communicate with, what you do and what you search for.
Below, are some important videos relevant to this conversation. They are not extremely long and shed light on these subjects. I think we should all care about this. This is an issue that affects all other issues. Think about how Freedom of Speech on the internet has worked for activism in the past 10 years. The power it has to spread information far and wide to others that would never know otherwise. The internet is an amazing place as long as we are not confined into a small box when we log on.