10 Things social media companies do that should freak you out. Privacy is dead.

We’ve all been following the congressional hearings where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled for two days after the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach. We have heard of the many incidents all over the world where social media companies have been accused of all kinds of nefarious tactics to keep us all hooked on social media. Privacy has become a hot topic and it’s time that we fully understand what they are doing.

Here are ten things that social media companies do that you probably didn’t know about. And if this doesn’t freak you out, nothing will.

  1. They specifically show you posts in your news feed that will anger you. 

Yes, they don’t like it when you’re happy. They want you to rant. People that rant also share a lot. People that rant create controversy and controversy generates lots of activity on their platforms. More activity results in more ad views. The loss of privacy results in more ad revenue.

  1. They love fake news. 

Despite all their denials and posturing, social media companies thrive on fake news. Without fake news their revenues will be halved in a matter of days. This is because fake news is always sensationalist. Sensationalist news attracts viral behaviour and that results in more ad revenue. That is why most fake news sites exist. It’s not to try and influence elections, although there are some with a propaganda agenda. It’s about money. Fake news sites create fake news so that they get many people reading and sharing. People click on their ads and they generate revenue.

  1. They track you wherever you go. 

You can do whatever you like to try and prevent this, but it’s built into the OS. The incestuous relationships between the various companies guarantees that they share data with each other. There have been numerous tests where brand new phones were used and where the results conclusively proved that you are being tracked all the time. They call it Geo Targeting. They know where you are and where you were, 24 hours day. The only way to get past this is to switch off your phone, and some people claim that won’t help either. They use the tracking data to customize advertising. Most people don’t even realise the creepiness of a McDonalds ad appearing in their news feed the moment they are within 10 km range of a McDonalds drive-through. The loss of privacy has moved from the digital world to the real world.

  1. They keep everything. 

You can do what you like but they keep every bit of data they collect on you. You will never know how detailed and comprehensive their profile is on you. You can delete your account, but it won’t help.

  1. They track you online.

You don’t even have to be a Facebook or twitter user to be tracked. They do anyway. They do this through tracking cookies that are embedded in the websites you visit. Almost every website on the internet has sharing buttons from Facebook and twitter. Behind these buttons are programming code that passes information about the visitor to the companies. They don’t own these websites, but they gather information on all their users. So even if you are not a Facebook user, your identity will be an IP address and unique browser identification. As you move through the internet the social media companies track what you click on and where you go, building a profile of your habits. At some point you hit a website where you are logged in and where that website shares your data with Facebook or twitter and bingo! They can now connect the anonymous users browsing activity that they have been gathering with a real person, who’s data they bought from the website.

  1. Google is way more invasive (or evil) than Facebook or Twitter.

Google is the big daddy of big data. They practically invented internet social engineering on gigantic scale. Every website in the world is indexed by google and almost every website is connected with programming code to Google analytics. This code is added by webmasters on websites under the auspices of providing the webmaster with analytical data so that they can improve their websites. It also provides reports on numbers of visitors etc. but in fact, this code is nothing but spying software installed on a website that allows google to track you everywhere. Google analytics passes data from a website you just visited to the next website you visit thereby tracking you wherever you go. They do this so that when you visit a website they can show you personalized ads. So, this morning you visit amazon.com to check out the latest tech gadget and this afternoon you read your news on your favourite news website and voila! What do you see? The same gadget from amazon that you were looking at earlier on amazon. Now this seems innocuous but consider the ramifications. They know when you go to a political website. They know everything you do. All the time. And then they show you ads in line with your habits. Not just ads, but articles and stories as well. They are the great enforcers of confirmation bias in the world.

  1. They read your email.

They can deny it as much as they want, but there are just too many coincidences. Too many studies that prove that they do. These companies work together, and they give each other access to your data. Facebook reads your email. They were even sued in 2014. If you send email using Gmail then Facebook has read the contents of that email even before it arrives at the recipient. You send and enquiry to your travel agent about a trip to Disney world and later in the day you visit Facebook. What do you see in your news feed? A Disney world ad.

  1. They read your WhatsApp messages.

Facebook recently acquired WhatsApp. Why did they do that? There’s no money to be made from WhatsApp on it’s own. They purchased WhatsApp so that they can know more about your private life. They want to know what you are saying to your friends. This is where you discuss plans and share information about all kinds of things. You discuss with your friend on WhatsApp that you are looking at buying a new car and within seconds you will see that new car advert on your news feed, websites about that new car will suddenly appear on the top of the organic search results on Google and your Twitter feed will be miraculously sorted to show relevant tweets. In fact, you will receive email spam messages relating to your planned new car purchase. Everything to get you to buy from their advertising partners so that they can get a piece of the cake.

  1. You can never be forgotten.

Google recently lost its case in the EU about the right to be forgotten. Basically, this means that you should be able to ask Google to delete all your data so that when people search for you on the search engine, they find nothing. This is a meaningless verdict because the data is spread over millions of servers across millions of companies. You will never be able to exit the web of data that has been weaved around your identity. Short of changing your identity of course. When you agreed to the terms of service of these companies you sold your privacy forever.

  1. And we leave the best for last.

They listen to your real-world conversations. This means that while you are having a real conversation with friends or family in your house, they listen to you. All the time. They do this through your phones. When you install Facebook you give it permission to access your microphone be default. The microphone is always, activated and then they transcribe the words you speak and pick out the keywords. These keywords are then used to serve you personalized ads. Sounds farfetched right? Not at all. Siri already listens to you. So, does google now. You can speak to Siri and Siri will understand you. Facebook’s AI is vastly more advanced than Siri. You have a conversation with your spouse this morning and a few hours later an ad relating to your topic of conversation miraculously appears on your news feed. Think this is fake news? Nope. I have tested it myself and there have been many experiments that prove this. Facebook has obviously denied it vigorously. But of course, they would.

Just a pity no-one raised this question at the congressional hearings. Mark Zuckerberg can be glad I wasn’t there to grill him. We would still be busy today.


Marthinus Strydom

Marthinus is a venture capitalist and private equity investor.

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