Facebook could be used against you. Privacy is something that should concern everyone, yet social networking blurs the line between right and wrong.
No matter how much personal information you put online, more can be gleaned from you. Just think of advertising. Very little is coincidence. However, we can’t go into conspiracy theory territory. The world probably isn’t out to get you.
Nonetheless, Facebook can be utilised in some very interesting ways.
Facebook Listening In?
An ongoing concern is a new update to the Facebook app which gives the company access to your microphone in order to identify media. Sounds like the increasingly-popular Shazam, an iOS and Android app that identifies music and TV ads, right? The two became further integrated three years ago; friends can see what each other have tagged and listen to tracks.
While millions of users trust Shazam, many question if Facebook can be trusted in the same way. An online petition by Sum of Us is urging the social networking site not to roll out the update. It reached its original target of 500,000 signatures and has been extended to accommodate 750,000.
Is it really a threat to our privacy? It seems not – at least, that’s what Facebook assert. It’s strictly opt-in and only turns on when writing a status update. Furthermore, it only listens in for 15 seconds, just enough time to get a fingerprint of the track it’s trying to analyse.
It works in the same way as Shazam by taking an acoustic fingerprint, a digital snapshot, if you will, of any given sound. It’s been used in the music industry for a while now to determine if a particular song could be a rip-off of another. The important thing Facebook stresses is that it stores no data afterwards, and even if they did, the fingerprint can’t be reverted back to its original form so they can’t listen in.
Who Watches The Watchers?
The result of the new app update is that friends can hear a 30-second preview of a song you’re listening to, or see briefly which TV show you’re watching. But many see this as a clever way of better tailoring advertisements to a users’ preferences – meaning Facebook can get even more money from companies looking into their consumers.
Facebook’s been doing this sort of thing for a while, however. Your smartphone spies on you.
You may not give two-seconds’ thought to updating your status: Watching The Simpsons; Listening to The Killers; Playing Doctor Who: Legacy. And yet Facebook uses this information to get more money for advertising.
Late last year, they announced that they’d send a weekly report to TV networks commenting on how many interactions shows garner.
Is it really a threat to our privacy? Only as much as Twitter is. The social networking site that limits you to 140 characters is a perfect tool to talk telly, and this is Facebook’s bid to tackle that popularity.
They send analyses to select US networks like CNN, ABC and Fox, but the Wall Street Journal claims “the new Facebook reports are fairly limited. They show, for example, that a recent episode of ABC’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’ generated more than 1 million interactions from some 750 thousand people.” Unlike Twitter, they supposedly don’t track what individual users think, instead compiling them into raw data reports.
Once more, it boils down to one thing: the ability to command higher prices.
Is The NSA Reading This Right Now?
The most notable flaunt of your privacy was leaked by Edward Snowden: the National Security Agency appears to have teamed up with the UK’s secret service hub, GCHQ, to send malware to millions of homes, allowing them access to your data through an automated system (named TURBINE) – by posing as a Facebook server. Clever stuff, of course, but also wildly controversial.
This news was broken by The Intercept, who reported that the NSA used this method to gain data on users whose interactions couldn’t be monitored through traditional wiretaps. They did this by “[sending] out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.”
Is it really a threat to our privacy? TURBINE has been working since at least July 2010, and the NSA is reportedly aware that further secret service agencies across the world are copycats. So whilst the NSA claim they’re not pretending to be either Facebook or Twitter as of right now, that certainly doesn’t mean we’re not being tapped in the same way by other services.
It’s a worryingly common idea: it was revealed late last month that hackers in Iran had created fake social media accounts as far back as 2011 to get information on high-level targets in various countries including the USA, UK, Syria, and Iraq.
If you feel really sour over what the NSA has done, you could adopt a burner phone so they struggle to access your location. But if you’re of the “I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I worry?” school of thought, you might want to try this test to see if you’re good enough for the NSA!
Your Privacy Is At Risk
Social networking is a risk to privacy. That’s the bottom line. But it’s also incredibly handy, and can even increase productivity.
However, if you’re worried about Facebook, you can protect yourself, including playing with your app permissions. The safest option – without cutting off your nose to spite your face – is to be aware, be careful, but continue to enjoy Facebook, Twitter and any other social media site as they were intended.
Image Credit: I-Spy (Kit).