Urban legend says facebook is listening

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There so much talk about Facebook and other west coast megacorps (the 5 stacks) listening in on our conversations. To be fair its part of the reason why I don’t like Whatsapp who own and can do what ever they like to the metadata of your conversations. It’s all become a bit of an urban legend, but to be fair the megacorps are doing an incredibly bad job explaining how things are happening (little to no transparency, but to be fair it’s not fitting with their business model).

Even a recent episode of Reply All tackled this field – #109 Is Facebook spying on you.

You can look & listen to the rising concern the public have around their privacy; and the increasing number of stories. I you can’t help but think maybe there is a change coming? Or at least I’d like to think so… but its clear there is a lack of understanding of data by the general public.

For example

“One of the things that Facebook can do is if you like something, it can advertise that thing to your friends. So the brother-in-law obviously signaled to Facebook that he was into white supremacy somehow, and Charles’ friend was liking a lot of the guy’s posts, and they were friends on Facebook, so Facebook was like, “Alright, well, why don’t I advertise this white supremacist stuff to you.”

If you actually read the Facebook EULA, it actually says this but certainly not in such clear human readable words (its been a long while since I skimmed the FB eula, so may have changed – but doubt it). In my own experience, it’s also very hard for people to envision scenarios where the links matter, hence it may not be the actual data but the links between the data which suddenly make people worry and care; the data taken out of context. Most have no idea how many categories of data Facebook alone are sorting us all into.

This is hard to show and demonstrate without going; without going all black mirror or someones eyes glazing over. In my experience when talking about data most people shrug and say things like, “nothing to hide.”

Glass room recipt

During Mozfest this year I got the chance to walk around the Glass Room on Charing Cross Road, with the people at the ingenious bar giving out data detox kits. The kits are interesting because it’s aimed at a mass audience and the advice although simple is generally useful. I also found some of the installations good, especially the one where you are swiping through your facebook timeline (it was twitter for me) and 2 mins later, given a printed receipt of your work. (Funny enough, it felt like a lot longer than 2mins but then again, its not really the thing I do regularlly)

We certainly need more of this!

Hopefully more of these public interjections will start to move the discussion on from urban legends to a proper informed discussion about ethical data use. I believe FB and others are capitalising on the general public ignorance and its got to stop.

Author: cubicgarden

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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