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Data Poaching

Data Poaching

Facebook and Google hold an almost unfathomable amount of data—College News reveals how much of your personal information the tech giants store and how to delete it to avoid the ever-growing problem of data poaching.

It is almost 70 years since George Orwell’s prescient words, “Big Brother is watching you,” were first published in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 2018, with our personal data so freely available, this fictitious maxim seems more relevant than ever.

Forget the Soviet Union, the Gestapo or the Spanish Inquisition. Google and Facebook know more about is than any state-sponsored organisation in history. Indeed, the information they possess would be the envy of even the most brazen surveillance states. Unconstrained by borders—accountable to many governments—the tech conglomerates seem almost untouchable.

But how sinister is the data-harvesting furore? Hw much of our data is out there? And should we be concerned? College News investigates.

What do they know?

First, we provide the lowdown on the information Google and Facebook store on you. (Be warned, this might freak you out.)

Your movements

 Google stores your location every time you switch on your cell phone. It’s been tracking where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google Maps—it knows the time of day you were in a given location and how long it took you to travel there.

Everything you’ve ever searched—& deleted

It doesn’t matter if you delete your search or phone history on one device, Google may have stored data from other devices. This helps form your “digital footprint”—which targeted digital advertising campaigns can exploit.

Google also stores information on every app and extension you use. It knows how often you use them and who you use them to interact with.

Your advertisement profile

Your information, including gender, age, location, hobbies, careers and interests help Google to form an advertisement profile of you. This material becomes a valuable asset and can be flogged off to big data companies.

Data on all aspects of your “digital life”

Google has data on everything from the phones you’ve owned to how many steps you walk in a day, making data poaching easier than ever before. If you download all the data Google stores on you, you’ll find it includes bookmarks, emails, contacts, Google Drive files; photos you’ve taken on your phone and the products you’ve bought through Google.

Google also has data on the music you listen to, your calendar, the websites you’ve created, the Google books you’ve purchased, the phones you’ve owned, and the pages you’ve shared. Even files you’ve deleted are stored by Google.

To see your own data, go to google.com/takeout.

Facebook has stacks of data on you, too

If you were to download all your personal data from Facebook, you’d find it contained every message you’d ever sent or been sent; every file you’d ever sent or been sent; all the contacts in your phone; and all the audio messages you’d ever sent or been sent.

Facebook can access your webcam & microphone

When you agree to the Facebook’s terms of use, you (perhaps unwittingly) allow the social network to access your webcam, microphone and camera.

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is even known to tape over his laptop webcam and microphone. And, when asked in 2016 if he covered his laptop’s webcam, former FBI director James Comey said: “Heck yeah, heck yeah; I put a piece of tape over the camera because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”

If you are concerned, American digital rights group EFF sells webcam stickers, which it says people “purchase regularly.”

OK, they have this data—so what?

 Most people are probably aware when they sign up for a free service like Facebook—or benefit from the wealth of information free search engines provide—there must be a catch somewhere. After all, these companies are there to make money. Their fundamental business model, which revolves around advertising, requires retention of vast amounts of customer data.

What’s more, it’s unlikely people take the time to scroll through long and convoluted terms and conditions, or trawl through their privacy settings to ensure they are protected.

The crux of the issue lays in whether we are aware the extent to which our data is being harvested. And whether we give meaningful consent for its use. To understand this, we must make the critical distinction between information we willingly share, and information Facebook or Google take without our knowledge.

Put another way, are users of Facebook or Google aware of the stakes involved when signing up to use these services?

Digitizing democracy

Since the Observer blew the lid off Facebook’s relationship with data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, people are beginning to scrutinize the tech multinationals, more broadly, to probe both the quantity and nature of data they hold.

In many ways, tech companies like Google and Facebook have democratized information. In the spirit of idealism upon which they were founded, these companies provide an abundance of knowledge and unparalleled connectivity—at the touch of a button. With this in mind, does the fact they hold so much data on us really matter?

When it comes to constitutional issues of democracy, it does. Of that, the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal was proof. The data mining, brokerage and analysis company accrued the personal data of 87 million Facebook users, some of which purportedly influenced the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. When data influences politics, something’s got to give. And in April 2018, it did.

Following bi-partisan consensus, Mark Zuckerberg was invited to testify in Congress in an almost unprecedented event. During his testimony, Zuckerberg stated that his own data had been poached by the personality quiz, This is Your Digital Life, responsible for mass-scale misappropriation of personal data.

Importantly, when questioned by congresswoman Eshoo, Zuckerberg revealed he was not prepared to alter his business model, but admitted future regulation would be “inevitable.”

At last, it seems the tech giant is assuming responsibility and is prepared to take steps to protect its users’ privacy. Still, it’s unlikely Facebook can impede the threat our nation faces of election meddling and cyber warfare from our enemies to the east.

Orwell’s was a world of dystopian proportions—perhaps ours isn’t so different.

Avoid data poaching & delete your data—permanently

Facebook

If you want to live a Facebook-free life, it is important to understand the difference between “deletion” and “deactivation.”

  • Deactivating your account means some of your data will still be visible (like messages you’ve sent) and Facebook will store all your account information in case you reactivate.
  • Permanently deleting your Facebook account will, after a 90-day grace period, remove things you’ve posted like statuses, photos and other data stored in backup systems.
  • While they are deleting this information, Facebook say, “It is inaccessible to other people using Facebook.”
  • They add: “Keep in mind that you will not be able to reactivate your account or retrieve any of the content or information you have added.”
  • But even then, copies of some materials (like log records) may remain in Facebook’s database, but are “disassociated from personal identifiers,” according to the company.

In short, deactivating is a way to cool off for a while, whereas deleting is a permanent action to take.

Google
Google knows a lot about us. For many, this is just a fact of life. But, with the right know-how, it’s possible to control what it uses for advertising purposes.

  • Google stores all your search history. If you’d rather not have a list of (potentially embarrassing) search queries stored up, head to Google’s history page, click Menu (the three vertical dots) and then hit Advanced -> All Time -> Delete.
  • As we mentioned, Google has the (slightly creepy) habit of keeping tabs on your location. To disable this, when you visit the timeline page you can hit the settings cog in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen and select delete all from there. There is also the option to pause location history by hitting the big button in bottom left-hand corner of the screen. But is one of the trickier things to get rid of entirely, because to stop it happening in future you’ll need to opt out of both location tracking and location reporting with your device—whether you are running Android or iOS.

Go ‘Off-Grid’—For good
If you’ve ever wanted to remove yourself (almost) entirely from the internet and avoid data poaching, Swedish website Deseat.me uses your Google account to help.

Using Google’s 0Auth protocol, which allows third-party users to access your other accounts without your password details, Deseat.me recalls all your online and social media accounts and allows you to delete yourself from them.

To go ‘off-grid’, visit Deseat.me and input your Gmail address. It will bring up all the online accounts linked to that address and give you the option to delete them all.

Further reading: Hundreds of YouTube Stars Paid to Urge Millions of Students to Cheat on their Assignments

stalking behavior

Did You Know? You Might Be a Stalker

Stalking is sadly a very common problem. But have you ever considered you might be a stalker yourself? Well, perhaps you should—because a survey released yesterday (July 9) has revealed more of us are stalkers than we think.

A team at SafeHome.org interviewed 2,000 men and women and asked them to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. The results made for some intriguing reading.

For example, 30 percent of those interviewed have ‘jokingly’ been called a stalker; 25 percent of the interviewees admitted they’d hacked into someone’s email and 22 percent had driven by an ex’s house.

What is stalking?

Stalking is defined as a pattern of on-going and unwarranted attention, harassment, contact, or other behaviors directed at someone causing them to be reasonably fearful.

Simply poking your nose in someone else’s affairs (whether the person is love interest or a neighbor) isn’t technically stalking—unless the actions legitimately make the target afraid. In other words, exhibiting stalker-like behavior is one thing, criminal stalking is quite another.

The stalker in us all

The persona of the stalker is deep-rooted in the American psyche and entrenched in our popular culture. Take, for example, the immortal words of Sting, ‘Every step you take, every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you’; or the abundance of classic movies—from Psycho (1960) to Cape Fear (1962)—where the archetypal stalker is brought to the fore in cinematic terms.

In both the movies and chart-topping tunes, references to stalker-like behavior are both allusory and blatant, pervasive and resonant.

Is this, perhaps, because—whether we like it or not—we can all identify with stalker traits? Is there a stalker within us all? After digesting the results from the SafeHome.org survey, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was.

That’s right, more than a third of the people interviewed admitted they had watched someone else without them knowing about it. And a shocking 22 percent of people confessed they had created a fake social media account to keep track of someone. Creepy!

But it gets worse. 20 percent of people said they’d sent someone a gift and not signed their name on purpose and 20 percent admitted they’d broken or ruined something that belonged to someone else.

Meanwhile, 19 percent revealed an ex had told them to stop contacting them. And, astonishingly, 16 percent of interviewees disclosed they had persistently messaged, phoned or texted someone after they had been asked to stop.

However spooky this data may seem, as long as the people carrying out these behaviors are not doing so with the intent to threaten or scare another person, the behavior is not technically stalking.

info graphic about stalking
Image courtesy: SafeHome

Who is most likely to be your stalker?

The SafeHome survey also revealed who was most likely to be your stalker, and what relationship they were most likely to have with you.

Your ex is most likely to be your stalker, with 26 percent of the people interviewed having been stalked by an ex. Close behind, however, was a ‘significant other’, with 25 percent of those surveyed confessing this was the relationship they’d previously had with their stalker.

Co-workers were the least likely to be a stalker, with just 5 percent of people saying they were stalked by one.

The gender factor

According to the SafeHome survey, men and women have different ideas about what constitutes creepy behavior.

When it comes to sexes and exes, men are more creeped out than women by the thought of a former partner hacking into their online life or following them in the real world.

Meanwhile, impersonating someone in real life—or online—disturbed women more than men. Whereas both sexes equally agreed that going into an ex’s house without permission was definitely on the spooky-scale.

Image courtesy: SafeHome

The age of creepiness

SafeHome broke down stalking targets by age. The youngest group they surveyed (aged 18 – 24 years old) said they stalked their friends more than any other group. Non-romantic friendships are more important to college-aged adults as they strive to find their place in the wider community. This factor could explain why friendship groups are common targets of stalkerish behavior within this age demographic.

Among those aged 25 to 64 years old, significant others and exes were most likely to be sneakily investigated. For those aged 65 and older, it was friends.

Image courtesy: SafeHome

The state of stalking

Does where we live in the U.S. influence our tendency to stalk? SafeHome’s survey found it does.

Those living in the West were the least likely to obsessively pursue their exes by following them or driving by their homes, while those living in the South were the most likely to do so. East Central U.S. fell in the middle.

SafeHome’s findings are in line with traditional U.S. stereotypes about regional personality differences.

The West Coast is often characterized as relaxed and laid back, while we consider the American South as somewhat more aggressive or confrontational. Whether these stereotypes hold true is a matter of endless debate —although some studies have shown that personality differences are, in fact, regional.

Image courtesy: SafeHome

When can we expect privacy?

When does stalker-like behavior develop into a serious crime? In some cases, the answer is very straightforward. Trespassing on someone else’s property, or breaking into their home, is a criminal act. Period.

It is also a crime to harass someone—this can apply to a lot of stalkerish behaviors from hacking into an online account to sending unwanted gifts.

High-profile celebrity court cases demonstrate that, in every state, stalking is a serious crime, whether it’s carried out online otherwise.

Curiosity is all well and good, but if you end up making the object of your attention justifiably fearful, you could also end up in jail.

Information courtesy of safehome.org.

Testimony to US Congress

Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony to US Congress: What We Know so Far

In the wake of the data scandal that involved millions of people’s personal data being potentially shared with Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg—CEO and co-founder of Facebook—faced US Congress to answer for the company’s involvement. Here’s what we know so far.

The scandal

The lid was lifted on Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica after the Observer published an account from a former worker from the firm. The academic, Aleksandr Kogan, had apparently used a personality quiz to harvest personal data from users of the social network and, through a company called Global Science Research (GSR), shared that information with Cambridge Analytica. At present, it is believed that 87 million people may have been affected (this figure includes both those who took the test as well as their friends, whose personal records the app also had access to).

In the US, Cambridge Analytica is backed by the Mercer family, whose heavy influence was thrown into championing Donald Trump during the presidential election in 2016. It is this association that has sparked allegations of election manipulation. Further revelations surfaced after Channel 4 News in the UK revealed a separate undercover investigation in which Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica, was filmed boasting of using dirty tactics in order to successfully swing elections. The incident saw Nix speak about an opportunity in Sri Lanka where he mentioned the creation of sex scandals and the use of fake news to swing votes.

Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress

This Tuesday, Zuckerberg faced US Congress for the first time since the scandal hit the headlines. Questions from the senate commerce and judiciary committees were fired at Zuckerberg on a number of pressing topics including privacy, regulations, data mining and Cambridge Analytica during the five-hour long hearing. Bombarded with cameras, Zuckerberg’s countenance was collected yet alert.

On rights to privacy

When asked in detail about user rights to privacy, Zuckerberg said the following:

“I believe it’s important to tell people exactly how the information that they share on Facebook is going to be used.

“To your broader point about the privacy policy […] long privacy policies are very confusing. And if you make it long and spell out all the detail, then you’re probably going to reduce the percent of people who read it and make it accessible to them.”

Senator Jon Tester then asked him: “You said multiple times during this hearing that I own the data. I’m going to tell you that I think that sounds good, but in practice you’re making $40 billion a year, I’m not making money on it. It feels like you own the data […] could you give me some idea on how you can honestly say it’s my data?”

Zuckerberg responded with, “When I say it’s your data, what we mean is that you have control over how it’s used on Facebook. You clearly need to give Facebook a license to use it otherwise the system doesn’t work.”

Tester countered with: “The fact is the license is very thick, maybe intentionally so.”

Cambridge Analytica

When probed on Facebook’s relationship and dealings with Cambridge Analytica, he said: “[From] what my understanding was … they were not on the platform, [they] were not an app developer or advertiser. When I went back and met with my team afterwards, they let me know that Cambridge Analytica actually did start as an advertiser later in 2015.

“So we could have in theory banned them then. We made a mistake by not doing so.

“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

Storing and selling data

“Yes, we store data… some of that content with people’s permission,” said the Facebook CEO.

When Senator Tammy Baldwin asked whether the neuroscientist Kogan had shared the data with any other users aside from Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg replied: “Yes, he did.”

Senator Cory Gardner read out parts of the terms of service offered by Facebook relating to account deletion—which mentions that backup copies of the profile may persist after an account is deleted for some amount of time—and questioned Zuckerberg about it. Zuckerberg said that he doesn’t really know how long those backup copies are kept, but generally expressed his belief that they are actually deleted.

Rules and regulations

Senator John Kennedy: “I don’t want to regulate Facebook but god help you I will […] I say this gently: your user agreement sucks. You can spot me 75 IQ points. The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end; it’s not to inform your users about their rights. You know that and I know that. I’m going to suggest that you go home and rewrite it.”

Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress continued: “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.

“We’re investigating every single app that had access to a large amount of information in the past. And if we find that someone improperly used data, we’re going to ban them from Facebook and tell everyone affected.”

Russian interference

“One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.

“We have kicked off an investigation … I imagine we’ll find some things,” Zuckerberg continued.

“This is an on-going arms race. As long as there are people sitting in Russia whose job is it to try to interfere in elections around the world, this is going to be an on-going conflict.”

Zuckerberg’s personal privacy

When asked by Senator Dick Durbin if he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel he stayed in last night he said: “No. I would probably not choose to do that publicly, here.”

“I think everyone should have control over how their information is used,” he added.

Accountability

In the closing of Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress, he took responsibility for the situation, citing his position and interest in making positive changes for the future: “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.

“It was my mistake and I’m sorry.”

Are you convinced by Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress? Do you believe regulation will improve or is this the beginning of the end for Facebook? Give us your comments below.

Further reading: Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: All You Need to Know