You Thought These Private Businesses Spied On You. You Were Right

Many Americans are unhappy about the Federal government’s spying on them. Some Americans are also concerned about private businesses spying on them. Most Americans, though, don’t realize how many other businesses are spying on them and why that is dangerous.

For most Americans, their biggest understanding of corporate privacy concerns come from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg’s recent appearance before Congress. What these Americans don’t realize is the extent to which Facebook collects information about their users. Joel Rosenblatt writes,

Privacy advocates have said the billions of images Facebook is thought to be collecting could be even more valuable to identity thieves than the names, addresses, and credit card numbers now targeted by hackers. While those types of information are mutable — even Social Security numbers can be changed — biometric data for retinas, fingerprints, hands, face geometry and blood samples are unique identifiers. [hat tip to here for the source]

Now, if the idea of your Facebook data being accessed by identity thieves doesn’t bother you, then maybe you should consider that law enforcement is also starting to use this data on social media to convict people of crimes. A recent example is a situation which law enforcement used a picture in a WhatsApp message to identify and convict someone for drug trafficking. Police in the U.K. were able to enlarge a picture of a person’s pinkie finger in the picture to identify them and convict them.

Now, maybe you are one of those people who thinks that this should only concern people who have broken the law. The problem with that thinking is that, in a society with as many laws as we have, you almost certainly have broken the law. The challenge is that there are so many laws and so few of them are publicized, there is simply no way to know all of the laws to make sure that you haven’t broken any of them.

In other words, you’re likely guilty of something (as is everyone else). With that being the case, it’s simply a matter of someone in government deciding that they don’t like your political beliefs or take some other reason to dislike you. With that motivation, the only issue is for them to then find which law that you’ve unintentionally broken and to track you. And, guess what, social media is a perfect way for them to do that.

And, in case you think that the U.K. drug bust is just a rare situation, think again. The U.K. drug bust using social media is being lauded by law enforcement, and an Israeli company (made up of ex-spies, mind you) called Verint is collecting this data to sell to governments (to combat terrorism, they say). If you think that this information won’t be used against innocent people, then you are naive. The past says that it will be used against innocent people because what can be exploited will be exploited.

Is there a solution for this? In our hyper-connected world, it’s hard to say, but the least that you can do is to be careful with what you put online or allow other people to put online about you.