Privacy with Exceptions: FBI and Facebook

You selected the right “friends,” lovingly noted your family members and posted cherished pictures that they will like.  You listed influencers in your life; authors, music, and video.  You chose Facebook settings to share in your circle of friends and exclude others.  Sometimes you add friends or unfriend someone who became a pest.  Facebook’s under control.   Wrong!

To grow and prosper, Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012 and changed Facebook’s “terms of use” in September 2012.  Facebook removed walls that separated Instagram from the information that Facebook keeps on its members – your demographics, friends, comments and activities.  Instagram has geo-location data associated with stored pictures and Facebook’s terms of use assert that apps your friends install can access your information, i.e. you don’t even have to know about this sharing.  So if any of your hundreds of Facebook friends uses Instagram, then Instagram can infuse your pictures with latitude and longitude data.

When geo-location data is merged with your personal data on Facebook, the combination is highly valuable to marketers.  It reveals your demographics, work life and tastes; and when you are carrying a mobile device, whether you’re near any vendors they represent, and what mobile advertising you receive.  This high powered mobile advertising strategy is precisely what Facebook needed to justify its high-flying share price.  Feeling used?

The FBI has been paying attention to our use of social media.  Ordinary Americans talk about financial markets using Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets – and in highly meaningful ways.   Recently, researchers found that the degree of calmness in the “twitterverse” correlates at 87% with the level of the Dow Jones Industrial Average 6 to 7 days out – an amazingly strong leading indicator!  Wasting no good source, the FBI solicited help  to lockin on the usual suspects and scour their Facebook and Twitter comments sifting for evidence of insider trading.  You don’t need to be an insider trading perp  to resent being monitored by the feds.

No doubt, Facebook claims that consumers are better served by more relevant adverts.  The FBI likely claims duty to protect consumers justifies surveillance of social network-using perps and Google hopes we’d neglect to mention that they trample consumer privacy rather aggressively.  Shame on us if we’re fooled by their spin.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida and following public policy from a consumer’s perspective

 

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