Facebook: Why you should be worried that this social network has your call records
Facebook knows too much about you… way too much.
While it faces the heat from a data scandal where it ‘allowed’ Cambridge Analytica to download sensitive data belonging to millions of people, Facebook has now admitted that it had been collecting and storing data about call logs and text message for millions of Android users.
Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many Facebook users were interested to know the true extent to which the social media platform had violated their privacy. One user went a step further to download his data found that the company had collected a record of the date, time, duration, and recipient of calls he had made from the past few years.
He made these revelations on Twitter, spurring several users to download their data and share their findings.
On Saturday, the tech news site Ars Technica published an account of several others — all Android users — who found similar records.
For years, conspiracies have circulated on the Internet about how Facebook supposedly listens to its users’ conversations via the mobile app.
Some of the videos you will find point to a particularly interesting piece of evidence; after having phone conversations, they get targeted with ads relating to whatever they just talked about.
Facebook has repeatedly denied these allegations in the past.
Even now, it’s not admitting to listening to calls, just keeping metadata or information relating to call logs, records and duration.
All of this is useful for one main purpose; Facebook wants to give you exactly what you like.
The social network thrives off holding your attention and it has been trying for years to become the epicentre of whatever you do on the internet.
Already, Facebook has adjusted how posts appear on your feed to give you what you are interested in first.
There’s also a more financial twist to the whole thing. Facebook’s main customers are brands and companies, not people.
What it sells is advertising and access to its massive subscriber base.
Mark Zuckerberg’s baby needs to sell ads and the value of its ads is directly related to how successful they are and how they convert into clicks and purchases.
Big Data, as it is called and its use for targeted advertising is what sets tech companies like Facebook apart from the rest and makes them so successful.
As of the fourth quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.2 billion monthly active users. With this comes access to data filled in forms or observed from their activities on the network. It uses this data to determine their traits and what they are likely to buy. Then it sends them ads they are most likely to respond to.
All of this sounds very sketchy because it seems too much like a company is using information about you to take advantage of you, but it’s legal.
Also, you kinda agreed to it in the terms and conditions before you could open your Facebook account.
But what happens when a company collects that data illegally and uses it to send you targeted political campaign adverts based on your traits and preferences?
That’s what Cambridge Analytica did in the United States and reportedly tried to do in Nigeria.
Facebook already has an obscene amount of data about its users. Monitoring calls violates the users’ privacy. That sort of information could be lost to persons with worse motives or turned into a weapon to unfairly target a set of people, like ICE already does.
The agency uses data from Facebook to target persons believed to be illegal immigrants and deport them, in line with the United States’ new immigration agenda.
The prospect that big corporations may be using all this information to push specific agendas is certainly troubling, as one can deduce from the widespread outrage that has come in reaction to the recent revelations.
The danger of inherent bias
But an even scarier reality is that Big data is not exactly accurate or free of bias.
After noticing that her search results on Google were followed by adverts asking “Have you been arrested”, Latanya Sweeney, a black scholar conducted a study which showed that the machine learning tools behind Google’s search are racist, associating black names to ads relating to arrest records.
Because big data is collected from a wide range of people, it is bound to reflect common large-scale associations or perceptions.
In the end, when the platform does things based on those biases, it seems to create an agenda that the platform does not even intend.
So who should you be scared of? And why?
Because in a world where your browser history is studied to tell you what to buy, free will is becoming a myth.
An advertiser can use big data to ensure that it advertises to the right people; a presidential campaign can use data to spread propaganda and sway votes by pandering to exactly what they care about.
The lines between the two are very blurred, but the latter presents a future where your privacy is a footnote and the sacrifice for premium service and efficiency across your life is basically access to everything about you.
We don’t want that.