If we insist on connecting via social media, and we all know we do, it's gonna cost us... in more ways than one. Facebook has been systematically snooping on its users practically since its inception.
In 2013, they targeted specific users based on their past purchasing history. This included offline purchases which waved red flags among folks who wondered how they were tracking such purchases.
They started using no less than 98 personal data points to target ads to users. These include everything from a person's home value and gender to their political affiliation and ethnicity.
At the time, a Facebook spokesperson explained this away by saying, “We want the ads people see on Facebook to be interesting, useful and relevant.” This came in the way of an explanation for their invasive approach to ads, but it did little to assuage the concerns of those who value their privacy.
In 2014, it was announced that Facebook would be expanding the data it draws upon to target advertisements to users by including information about their Web-browsing habits. That same year, it was revealed that more Facebook ads would appear on users' mobile devices.
By 2016, it had gotten even more shoddy with the social media giant selling offsite advertisements targeting non-users. All of this is to say that Facebook has been up to no good for quite some time, but the invasion of the info snatchers reached a fever pitch this year.
The company faced widespread backlash last month over its mobile VPN app, Onavo Project. The analytics tool was first acquired by Facebook in 2013 and was introduced to select mobile devices in 2017, but this year the company pushed the so-called security tool on the front page of the site.
Perhaps you remember seeing a button that read, “Protect.” This was the Great Facebook Ruse of '18, the company falsely advertising this app as a means by which users can protect their personal information. The reality of the app is a far cry from that description.
In reality, the app is actually glorified spyware that leeches users' private data for exploitative purposes. Onavo and its Bolt Lock App collected user data without making it clear to users that that was what they were doing.
Onavo's VPN service also sent mobile browsing and app usage data back to Facebook itself, giving them information about user activity on the apps of their competitors. Last month, Facebook removed Bolt Lock App from the Google Play app store as a result of the controversy, but it seems their deception didn't come to an end with its removal.
On April 4, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that “malicious actors” had exploited “Search” tools on its platform to uncover the identities and mine information on the majority of its 2.2 billion global users. This disturbing news came on the footsteps of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which affected as many as 87 million users and may have gained 37 million additional users' data.
The fallout has been substantial with several users, including notable celebrities like Cher, deleting their Facebook accounts in the aftermath. Via rival social media platform Twitter, Cher said, “2day I did something VERY HARD 4 me. Facebook has helped me with my Charity, & there are amazing young Ppl there. I have a special friend (Lauren) who I Respect& Admire, but today I deleted my Facebook account.”
The tweet featured emojis of the American flag and hands praying, suggesting that the pop superstar loves her country and is praying for its safety and privacy. She went on to say that she believes there are things more important than money. Privacy would obviously be one of them.
The co-founder of the WhatsApp messaging service tweeted, “It is time. #deletefacebook.” Meanwhile, Richard H. Perry, an LA-based filmmaker who used the platform to promote his movies, said that he had watched Facebook become a “garbage platform of ads and weird reposted articles and people that you care about exposing themselves as racists.”
“Facebook seems...like it doesn't care about its users,” he added.
Amid the controversy, Facebook's top security official stepped down from his position. It makes sense for people to distance themselves now before it gets any worse. After all, there are 3.74 billion Internet users worldwide and the vast majority of them engage in activities like online banking and e-commerce which are just the sort of things that they wouldn't want third parties knowing about.
2018 is a time of growing threat trends, the likes of ransomware, skimmers, and more. Major ransomware campaigns have infected airlines, banking institutions, and utility companies. Cybersecurity Ventures have predicted that ransomware damages will cost the world $11.5 billion by 2019.
An analysis of data mining reflects a similar phenomenon where retailer tracking is concerned with credit card purchases at big box stores resulting in data brokers finding out all about us. Data collection companies can determine whether a consumer is black, white, pregnant, or engaged to be married.
A scary time to be an American, one might say. And a very scary time to be an active consumer. With the repeal of the FCC's Internet privacy rule, our ISPs (Internet service providers) are even free to sell our personal information to these third party entities.
The Facebook debacle illustrates the need for Americans to purchase real VPNs (virtual private networks), software with military-grade encryption for preserving online anonymity and security.
It's bad enough that we have to grapple with all of the usual Internet-based threats, but social media is where we should really draw the line. After all, the purpose of connecting on social media is to have a safe space wherein one can share their thoughts with a select group of people with whom they feel a sense of camaraderie.
It's a place for catching up with old friends and distant relatives, a place to share milestones from the lives of you and your loved ones. What it's not supposed to be is a place to willfully surrender one's most delicate details. Social media is for being social, not handing over your identity to faceless thugs.
Sam Bocetta is a defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, a defense analyst, and a freelance journalist. He specializes in finding radical — and often heretical — solutions to "impossible" ballistics problems. Through Lakeview Capital, he also cultivates funding for projects — usually naval, defense, and UAV startups. He writes about naval engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, marine ops, program management, defense contracting, export control, international commerce, patents, InfoSec, cryptography, cyberwarfare, and cyberdefense. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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