Privacy and Social Media

The Point:

Add your social media accounts up. Now factor in how much you are paying for each one on a subscription basis (Hint: none). Multiply that by the outrage you would feel at being charged for the service (but it’s now part of who we are, you can’t charge me for that!). Add in your unwillingness to let go of many of these services (I keep threatening to, looking at you Facebook…). Honestly, I look at this and I’m shocked, as I know the cost.

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Disambiguated attribution, via

The cost is my private data: my personally identifying data, my location and IP address data, my machine and browser data, my browser instance data, and my browser history data. The cost for the ability to post it up over there, and pull it in over here, and connect and say hi, is to give little digital bits of me away; to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the uber-technorati to follow, hoover-up, document, and share. I have a fundamental dislike of most social media – LinkedIn excepted as people tend to keep that professional. I’ve found Twitter to be less of a dumpster fire than most, but I’m on and off that platform. Facebook is a mess, and when it comes to privacy, they inhale vast amounts of user data, much of it private, like a whale shark swallowing krill.

Facebook is to data as a whale shark is to krill

Have you got that little niggling feeling? That little itch at the nape of your neck, or the small pit in your stomach? Did you know that many sites log where you go to once you leave their site – whether you follow a link or direct your browser there yourself? Do you know what you’ve given to a foreign corporation who has questionable accountability under PIPEDA and Canada’s other various privacy laws? It’s too late now, you have clicked through that pesky End User Licence Agreement (EULA) – the document that tells you what you are agreeing to, and what the platform can do with your data – without reading it, and you have agreed to blah-blah of the so-and-so. I’ve done it. I have absolutely said “Yeah, yeah” in my head while scrolling to the bottom of a EULA to get the “Accept” button to light up. No reading. No idea as to what I have just agreed to. You’ve done it too, admit it – and I would bet you’ve never read more than a handful of them, if you’ve ever read one.

Oh, and look! I can connect this right to my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. Awesome! That way all my friends can see all my awesome whatevers! That means that I’ve just what? Given Facebook the ability to read everything in my Pinterest account, so they can refine the ads they target my way? Given Google the ability to read all my data, including private and health data, in my Fitbit account – including my weight, and further have Fitbit sell my data (non-identifiably) to third parties? What does that mean? Well, surely I own my photos that I’ve posted to Facebook, right? It’s my Facebook account, after all! Well, the copyright remains with you, meaning you own it. However, use of the Facebook site through the terms of the user agreement (pesky things, these user agreements we didn’t read), grants the platform a worldwide, transferable non-exclusive licence. It allows the platform to use your photos however they see fit, transfer their permission to use them to another party without asking you (anywhere in the world), and pretty much do whatever they like with the content. Any data you add to the platform (basically, any media at all, including videos, etc.) grants them this licence. You still retain the copyright, but you grant them licence to use your copyright.

So, you can get around this right? You’ve seen friends and contacts post statements on their public profile revoking the ability for Facebook/Instagram/some random university suspected of doing “research” by hoovering up vast amounts of social media data for their unknown purposes. Well, that statement doesn’t mean anything – it’s just wrong, on many levels. First, you have entered into a contract with Facebook, one that they won’t let you – one of a billion (!) or more users – unilaterally change because you feel like it and because your second cousin Randy posted that and told you to, and he’s smart about computers; nor is one random and unilateral post going to do anything to get the platform’s attention. This stuff has been floating around since at least 2012, and I see it all sorts of places. It’s not true. Please don’t repost it. You are likely not going to get the platform going to really be willing to change their terms and conditions even if there is a wave or protest, but you go ahead and sign a petition at, just remember they have more important stuff to worry about. Oh, and Facebook is a private company for whose services you pay nothing- remember, you are the product; it is unlikely that they will change their business model just for you.

Down the digital rabbit hole. The Matrix was prescient.

The worst part: we don’t yet know how far this rabbit hole will go. Your photos are geotagged if you take them on your phone. One snap processed through some AI can confirm that you were in Mexico on a Tuesday in March 2017; that you drank both mojitos and margaritas by analyzing what’s around you in the photos; that, looking at flight data your post that you were ready to “tan my white hide” while at the airport waiting for the plane, you likely boarded a WestJet charter flight (here come more ads!); and that you went for 7 days, not 14 (geotagged photos again). That’s not tough AI, and it’s what’s coming, soon – and it will cull all your data, not just the new stuff. It will go back to when you opened your account. Thanks to my beer posts, Facebook will shortly think I’m an alcoholic.

The trading of privacy for service is insidious. The use of the private data to target advertising, and refine a group of users to sell to, is pernicious. The companies that have entire monteization strategies about user data are devious in how they collect it. We’ve all complained recently about how one search for a salad spinner on Google will mean that you see ads for salad spinners for a week on Facebook. We’ve all had creepy feelings (and I have a specific example) where you phone has “listened” to you in your normal conversations, and then you are fed ads or Youtube videos about he same subject. The current crop of AI is not overly sophisticated, but neither were social networks in 2007; 10 years from now, the AI will be able to target you in ways you can’t imagine.

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Insurance is my profession, and one of my passions. Motorcyclist, runner, skier, photography newbie. Nerdy tech geek, craft beer enthusiast. Thoughts are my own. Snark is omni-present.

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