Data Protection and Privacy - Europe and the U.S.

If you had a meeting and Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech and he was followed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and after the lunch break Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai were on the screen giving video messages, you would consider this to be a pretty high-powered meeting.

That was the lineup for some European data regulators at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, held this year in the European Parliament in Brussels.

I saw part of it on a recent 60 Minutes. Tim Cook talked about the "crisis" of "weaponized" personal data. It's not that Apple doesn't collect data on its users, but companies like Facebook and Google rely much more on user data to sell advertising than hardware-based Apple.

The focus in that segment is on Europe where where stricter laws than in the U.S. are already in place. Of course, they affect American companies that operate in Europe, which is essentially all major companies.

Multi-billion dollar fines against Google for anti-competitive behavior re in the news. The European Union enacted the world's most ambitious internet privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Tim Cook said he supports the law, but Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, says that "Americans have no control today about the information that's collected about them every second of their lives." The only exception is some guaranteed privacy on the internet for children under 13, and some specific medical and financial information.

This is an issue that will be even more critical in the next few years. Since GDPR was passed, at least ten other countries and the state of California have adopted similar rules. And Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon now say they could support a U.S. privacy law. Of course, they want input because they want to protect themselves.

 

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Fifty-Two Thousand Data Points

data abstractionFacebook has had a tough year in the press and with its public face (though its stock is holding up fine). There has been a lot of buzz about hacks and data being stolen and fake news and Senate hearings and general privacy concerns. All of these are legitimate concerns about Facebook and about other social media and e-commerce and financial site too.

But how much does Facebook really know about a user? There is the information you willingly provided when you joined and all the things you have given them by posting and clicking Likes and other interactions. Though that volunteered data is often overlooked by users, there is more concern about data you have not knowingly given them but have access to anyway.

I do believe that Facebook is more focused now on privacy and user experience, it needs that data to be a profitable public company. (Disclaimer: I am a Facebook stockholder - though not in a very big way.)

Facebook is free but, as Mark Zuckerberg had to explain to at least one clueless Senator this past summer, it sells advertising to make a profit. Ad sales are more valuable to companies when they know who they are advertising to, and the more granular that audience can be, the better it is for them and Facebook. It might even be better for you. That is something Google, Amazon, Facebook and many others have been saying for years: If you're going to get ads anyway, wouldn't you rather that they be relevant to your likes and interests?

According to one online post, it you total up what Facebook can know about a user, it comes to roughly 52,000 traits. That comes from three key algorithms. One is DeepText, which looks into data, much of which coming from commercial data brokers. They also use DeepFace, which can identify people in pictures and also suggest that you tag people in a photo.

The third algorithm is FB Learner Flow, which might be the most clever of all. It focuses on the decisions you have yet to make. Using predictive analytics, it decides which ads should be shown to you that you would be likely to click and even purchase a product.

Amazon will allow you to let it send out products before you order them based on your previous orders and usage. This is not difficult to predict. My pharmacy will tell me it is time to reorder a prescription and even process and deliver it without my input. That is not so predictive; my 30 daily pills will run out in 30 days.

When Amazon suggests that I might like a product similar to other things I have bought, it's not very creepy. When I see an ad or suggestion from them about a product or even a topic that I was just searching on Google, THAT is creepy.

Similarly, Facebook might give me an ad or a "sponsored" post at the top of my feed because of my recent activity and the activity of friends that I follow - especially those that I interact with frequently with Likes, shares and comment. 

It would be interesting to see what the feeds look like for some friends of mine who are Facebook lurkers and who rarely post anything and seem to rarely even log into the site. What are they seeing when it comes to ads?

Work FOMO

#workFOMO

FOMO is the acronym for Fear of Missing Out which is defined as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent."

Another characteristic of this form of social anxiety is that a person compensates with a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.

Of course, we associate this social anxiety with social media but, though the acronym is new, the fear of missing out on things has surely been an issue since ancient times. People of the past were lucky - or unlucky, depending on your point of view - because they didn't have social media. Today we are much more aware of what others are doing.

I have written here about people I call "The Disconnected" but today I'm writing about people who are too connected. And yet, there is overlap in those two groups because the connections that "The Disconnected" often still maintain are social networks. 

Some people call the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) generations that are "always on," as in always online and always on their devices.

We associate much of this activity with "social" usage such as activity on Facebook and Instagram and updates on where we are, what we are doing and who is with us. Lately, I am seeing more attention paid to the "always on" aspects of work life

Part of that work condition comes from what I will call "Work FOMO." This is when we see people checking their phones, and reading work texts and email long after they have left the workplace. When does the work day end? Perhaps never. And that isn't healthy mentally or physically, and it might not be even helping their career.

You have seen those studies that show that social media can reduce young adults’ sense of well-being and satisfaction with their life. How does checking work messages all day and night affect your well being and satisfaction with your job? Does this increase our fear that our fellow employees are doing things and connecting with others and getting ahead of us in the workplace?

Both social and Work FOMO research probably suffers from correlation and causation issues. Does being on social media make you feel less happy, or do unhappy people spend more time using social media? Does Work FOMO cause you to keep checking in, or does checking in just increase your fear that you're missing out on that important message?

It is popular to post advice on how to overcome FOMO. (Here's one from psychologytoday.com.) The advice sounds reasonable but not always easy to follow. Are you "willing to not have it all?" Can you accept that your needs are limited, but your desires are endless?

There is one piece of advice that sounds reasonable and doable. Focus on one thing at a time. A decade a or two ago, "multitasking" was the thing to do. Then, we started to get research in the late 1990s that showed that we are not good at multitasking. Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. The human brain really can only respond successfully to one action request at a time. If you have a fear of missing out on something important at work, maybe you should turn your attention away from the screen.

Facebook Cloning

cloning

So, a real friend on Facebook messages you to say " I got another friend request from you yesterday which I ignored so you may want to check your account.”  What's going on? Should you "hold your finger down and forward the message?" 

I'm reading many articles that say these kinds of messages are a scam. And other articles that say they are real. Both are true. I received messages from a cloned account of a friend. It didn't say to forward it, but it did try to get me to take the bait on a money scam.

Facebook cloning is when scammers create a fake Facebook profile by using images and other information stolen from a legitimate user’s real Facebook profile. That cloned account looks very much like the genuine profile because it uses photos and information that the victim has made “public.”  Using that cloned fake profile, friend requests are sent to people on the real accounts friends list.

Why would you accept a second friend request? Maybe you don't remember ever friending this person. I accepted one because the person who was cloned was someone who very rarely used Facebook, so I assumed she was new. Maybe you thought you had "unfriended" that person by mistake or on purpose and now wanted to reconnect. Maybe you have so many Facebook friends that you can't keep track. Maybe you want friends so badly that you just accept any requests.

What warned me was that I was the only friend listed on this cloned account. I reported the account to Facebook and warned the real person. The fake was taken down.

Facebook itself is not doing this, so don't blame them this time, though they need to put some further privacy policies in place. The cloning is being done by people with bad intentions. In many cases they are trying to lure people into scams offering the chance to "win" large sums of money. The one that I was offered said that my "friend" had gotten $500,000 from the government and my name was on "the list" to also get money. Other people have gotten messages that claim the victim has been stranded in a foreign country and needs a short-term loan to get out of trouble. 

The scams are not new. These scams went from snail mail and phone calls to email and now social media.

Some of the warnings you're seeing now are false. It has become a meme. Some warnings are legitimate. Either way, it is a good idea to protect your identity on and off the Internet.

This article on "How To Protect Your Facebook Account From Cloning" has some good general privacy hygiene for Facebook. 

Hide Your Friends List - You have that ability, so use it. Yes, I like being able to see the friends of my friends (who may be potential friends for me) but that is your choice.
friends listRun A “Privacy Checkup” by clicking the “Lock” icon at the top right of your Facebook profile. You should probably set them to “Friends” or “Only Me” rather than “Public”:

Facebook also allows you to view your profile as the “Public” sees it. That public includes all the scammers. Your photos would be the way the way a cloner would start making the fake version of you.

If you discover that your Facebook account has actually been cloned, report the fake account to Facebook and, yes, then warn friends not to accept any friend requests that look like they came from you.

Mobile Social Media Goes Even More to Video

video on phone

The web went mobile years ago. Video went mobile with smartphones. Social media went mobile soon after. And next social media went video crazy.

Facebook and Instagram (which it owns) have launched a separate app called IGTV. This is an app for watching long-form, vertical video from Instagram creators. It is a video hub, but it is not for episodic, TV-like content.

But Facebook is interested in that kind of content.

With Facebook's 8 billion daily video views per day, Facebook doesn't want text - which is still a huge part of the Facebook experience - to dominate.  They are moving towards an even more video-oriented site.

They started by introducing a new Watch section to a small group of US users. The new platform differs from  IGTV which targets Instagram’s younger audience. That audience is made up of a lot of Generation Z who were NOT brought up on TV. Instagram says "We've learned that younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals." 

Instagram is supposed to be meeting with online creators hoping to lure them into the new video platform. They are looking for things like 10 minute vlogs, not extended programs. On IGTV, creators are the channels.

instagram-press.com/blog/2018/06/20/welcome-to-igtv/

newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/08/introducing-watch-a-new-platform-for-shows-on-facebook/