A call to action: Stop the surveillance - by web services, apps
“Tracking is no less an invasion of privacy in apps and browsers than it is in homes, cars, purses, pants, and wallets.” – Doc Searles
The unfettered, unauthorized, and secret collection and reuse of our personal information by Facebook, Google, and thousands of other web companies and app makers is wrong, and as it is practiced today, the surveillance should be illegal. Here’s a rundown of data collectors’ crimes against the individual, according to Searles:
Advertisers, their agents, and their publisher clients are a bunch of mannerless bores, according to Searles. The first shot across their bows is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which authorizes fines of up to 4 percent of “worldwide annual turnover for the preceding year” for failure to protect people’s private information, starting in 2018. Searles claims the rules have left large corporations “shaking in their boots.”
Searles also foresees data collectors being reclassified as fiduciaries, the same as accountants, lawyers, brokers, doctors, and other professions that collect and maintain personal information. Negligent loss or use of the private information they collect would make them liable for a breach of a fiduciary duty.
With a few limited exceptions, courts have failed to award damages to people whose personal data was lost or stolen unless the plaintiffs can quantify their loss in a specific dollar amount. Increased risk of financial loss as a result of the breach, and the cost of mitigating security measures have been ruled insufficient in nearly all such cases. However, if the companies are identified as fiduciaries at the time the data is collected, a stricter set of rules would apply to the protection of the data.
The greatest challenge facing people using web services and apps is to turn the tables on the service providers: We set the terms for data collection and reuse rather than accepting whatever terms the services dictate. We become the “first party,” while the services become the “second parties” who accept or reject our terms.
It's gonna take a whoooooole lotta lobbying for that to happen.
Facebook now allows ‘news’ that violates its own standards
When it comes to news, maybe Facebook isn’t such a reliable source. The algorithms Facebook uses to decide which news stories you will find most interesting can’t tell the difference between a real news story and one of the growing number of fake news stories. The fakes are complete fiction, written solely to generate clicks (click bait), and then collect revenue for the ads displayed along with the fake story. They are distinguished from stories that are sincere, but based on shaky facts. Digital Trends’ Saqib Shah explains the current perplexed state of Facebook news in an October 21, 2016, article.
Shah refers to a recent Pew Research Center study that found 67 percent of people in the U.S. use Facebook, and 44 percent of them get news on the site. Not long ago, Facebook fired the human editors of its news feed, so the stories you see are delivered to you based on what the company’s algorithms believe you will be most interested in. On numerous occasions, obviously fake news stories have been displayed in people’s news feeds, as Fortune’s Matthew Ingram writes in an October 12, 2016, story.
The Washington Post ran an experiment to determine whether Facebook’s trending topics demonstrate any bias. In just over three weeks, on four separate Facebook accounts, the researchers found five “indisputably” fake stories in trending topics, and three others that were “profoundly inaccurate,” as Caitlin Dewey writes in an October 12, 2016, story. Some of the bogus articles originated on comedy sites that are clearly labeled as fake news, while others were written as fake, and still others were traced back to sites run by conspiracy theorists of all stripes.
As Dewey explains, Facebook’s news-analysis algorithms make it far too easy for fraudulent and factually questionable stories to be shown on people’s feeds. A recent thread on Twitter requested an email extension that automatically links to the Snopes.com story that debunks whatever whacko claim is being made in the message. This would be the perfect gift for those friends and relatives – often of a certain age – who tend to believe every story they read online, no matter how outrageous.
It's never too early to protect the privacy of your children
It seems natural that parents would include the usual pertinent facts in online birth announcements and other milestones in the lives of their children. But doing so makes public much information that could put your child at risk, according to the Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance in an October 6, 2016, article. LaFrance cites Stacey Steinberg, a law professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, who warns that proud parents don’t consider the potential audience for the material they post, mistakenly believing the information is of interest to a small circle of people.
In her paper, “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media,” which will be published in the spring of 2017, Steinberg points out that what parents share about their children online affects the child’s “sense of autonomy over her developing identity.” Parents are expressing themselves through their children in many of these posts, and the kids are never able to opt out of the sharing.
Protecting the privacy of children becomes more important when you consider that Google’s YouTube Kids, Disney’s Maker Studios, and Dreamworks’ AwesomenessTV were among the content creators charged by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission with serving up deceptive ads to children. TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez reports on the FCC's complaint in an October 24, 2016, article.
Various consumer-protection groups claim the companies are using “influencer marketing” by having shows and video stars promote products in situations that children aren’t able to distinguish as advertisements, and without disclosing that the presenter is being paid to promote the product. FTC regulations require that all advertising be labeled and clearly presented as such. Among the YouTube influencers who participate in such promotions are EvanTubeHD, Baby Ariel, Meghan McCarthy, the Eh Bee Family, and Bratayley.
For the record, I haven’t heard of any of them, either. I’m more likely to be the victim of “under-the-influencer marketing.”