Conspiracies or Coincidences?
Halloween isn’t all monsters and zombies, it’s the creepy and the peculiar and all things that give you chills. This Halloween season we get in the spirit of spooky, releasing skeletons from the deep dark closets of the virtual world.
Call it conspiracy or call it coincidence, here are 5 spooky secrets of social media:
1. It may or may not listen to you…
The first spook on the list is one that is all too familiar— receiving advertisements for something you said out loud, but have never searched online. This eavesdropping paranoia isn’t uncommon. A recent survey conducted by Sociall revealed three quarters of people think tech giants like Google and Facebook are accessing their microphone to listen to their conversations without in-app prompting. This audio could be used to optimise advertisement targeting, which comes as no surprise considering they already track us in almost every other way possible. No matter how often they deny this sort of snooping, the coincidences are too uncanny.
A group of academics took this conspiracy theory to another level and studied the activity of Android’s 17,000 most popular apps. Although they found no evidence of eavesdropping, they did notice that some apps were taking screenshots and video recordings of users’ in-app activity and sending that data to third party domains (which is just as spooky).
2. It always knows where you are…
As if Facebook couldn’t get any creepier, along comes ‘People You May Know’. This feature is similar to mutual friends, except predicts people you might know in the real world, and invites them to your virtual world.
So, how do they do this? Chances are, your Facebook app is enabled to access your location at all times. Thanks to tracking the location of users’ phones, not only does this let them see what stores you enter to measure advertisement success, Facebook can also suggest befriending people that you’ve shared a GPS data point with.
“Using location data this way is dangerous… Once Facebook users realize that the ‘People You May Know’ are the ‘People That Go To the Same Places You Do,’ this feature will inevitably start outing people’s intimate information without their knowledge.” — Woodrow Hartzog, a law professor at Samford University.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “Location information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends, that’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.” After receiving negative backlash from this statement, Facebook backtracked, saying it doesn’t actually use your location for friend suggestions … weird.
Facebook’s Help page explains that ‘People You May Know’ suggestions come from things like mutual friends, networks and uploaded contacts etc. The wording ‘from things like’ infers that this list is only partial.
You can turn off Facebook’s access to your location from your phone’s privacy settings.
3. It lets people stalk you…
Ever get that spooky feeling someone is watching you? Well it turns out they might be. Cyber stalkers can easily harness technology to hack your device and watch you without your permission. These monitoring apps are often marketed to parents as a tool to monitor their children’s mobile activity. However, the same apps can be extremely dangerous in the hands of an abusive ex partner or violent stalker.
“Cyber stalking apps … enable continuous and secret tracking of a cellphone owner’s intimate conversations, medical appointments, online banking activity, intellectual musings, minute-to-minute movements, and far more,” University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron.
Even without these special spyware apps, social media itself is the perfect tool for stalking. Anyone with a solid wifi connection can scope out their victim and see where they check in, who their friends are, where they work, what upcoming events they are going to, the photos they have been tagged in and beyond.
4. It knows what you’re thinking…
Besides knowing where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with and who you’re contacting, Facebook also reads your mind. Data scientist Vicki Boykis recently unveiled the freaky fact that Facebook knows what you’re thinking, even when you choose not to post it online.
The company collects data as you type by sending code to your browser to analyse your keystrokes and saves your unpublished thoughts to a dark database. This snooping also extends to deleted posts, comments and check-ins. Facebook calls this behaviour “self-censorship” and has even used the metadata to study human behaviour.
Ultimately, Facebook uses metadata to make extrapolations about who you are. This telekinesis could be a contributor to the oddly precise targeted ads that we assumed were due to eavesdropping. They don’t need to hear your voice when they can hear your thoughts.
5. It controls your news and information…
With platforms controlled by algorithms and AI censorship, it’s shocking that over two thirds of U.S. adults (68%) still get their news on social media. However, a study conducted by Pew Research Center showed that over half (57%) of US news consumers say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate.
Facebook in particular is a haven for fake news, hoaxes, threats, and much, much worse. The platform’s nature gives anyone the opportunity to write what they want, and not be held accountable for the spread of disinformation. If people are found to breach Facebook’s terms, their post is often simply removed or their account is banned — legal action is very seldom taken.
“Nearly every time Facebook has been given a clear choice whether to act or not, it has chosen the path of least resistance, only acting when overwhelming outside pressure forced it to, and always too slowly…” — Nithin Coca
And while Facebook grabs headlines for fake news scandals, it’s not alone. Just this week Twitter launched a new page for the upcoming US midterm elections which was targeted by trolls and fake news within hours, while earlier this year Google announced a $300 million investment into counteracting fake news.
These 5 spooky secrets paint a picture of existing social media as over-connected, over-monitored and under estimated. These networks are able to watch your every move and even read your mind. They have access to more data that they probably know what to do with, at least for now.
Share this blog to spook your friends this Halloween.