The hidden danger of giving your data to social media

Despite the amount of scandals it’s safe to say most people don’t care about their data being monitored by social media.

April 30th, 2020

The hidden danger of giving your data to social media

Data privacy has been one of the biggest topics of the past few years and for good reason. With Facebook allowing users to finally see how much data they keep people were finally confronted with the cold reality of how much tech companies know about them. Most people have mixed feelings towards the amount of their data being stored but the truth is a vast majority of people don’t care. There seems to be an acceptance and an attitude of “this is the new norm”. After all why would anyone care if Facebook or google knows what they do?

The availability of online services to collect enormous datasets of users and use machine learning has allowed them to gain a deeper insight into us. There are things that my online accounts know about me that I don’t even know myself. Everything from interests not affiliated with my posts to political opinions are characterised in Facebook’s Ad recommendation. It’s this extensive collection of data points that makes Facebook ads such a powerful tool for online marketing. In a market where free services are becoming so much more common the most valuable thing that a consumer possesses is their thoughts on opinions. Although the online services, ISPs and even our governments may not be doing anything with the data they collect on us the possibility of overreach has never been greater. The reason the government is split into separate bodies with limited control is so that if a dictator ever does get elected the level of damage they can cause is minimal. With the level of information being collected it’s now important to ask not just what the powers that be are doing with it but what they could possibly do with it.

When we first transitioned from a feudal system into a capitalist society there was a drastic shift to people being more in control. Instead of people being forced to work for local landowners they had the option of working for any number of employers. In exchange for their labour and time people were paid a wage and for the first time in history the majority of people had a say in what they could do. As time progressed a number of inequalities started to develop. Employers were financially incentivized to make their workers perform grueling shifts for less and less money. With control of distribution and production channels workers were in very little position to fight these changes. The most valuable weapon they had was their labour. By striking and holding mass boycotts workers at the start of the 20th century were able to effect significant change and form a pathway for the future.

De-platforming of users from sites such as YouTube and Twitter left people with mixed opinions. They cheered when creators they hated like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannapolous were banned from nearly every platform. Things became a bit misty when the list of people being banned extended and normal everyday creators started to suffer. With the ad-pocalypse it became clear that YouTube would always put profit over their users.

But how can users fight back against the platforms they use? Social media companies essentially own a monopoly on the services they run. Gab being terminated by PayPal showed the world that even if you managed to start a company to rival them that you are still reliant on key players in the industry and any divergence of this won’t be tolerated. Voting with you wallet is no longer an option in a market where everything we use is free so the only tool that a consumer has to make change is their data.

Unlike in the past where protesters had to lose money to enact change it costs us absolutely nothing to stop sites from taking our data. All it takes is some time and a little bit of advice with setting your environment up. The important thing is not what online services such as the big 5 are doing with your data it’s what they COULD do with your data. The only way that you can take control is by making your data security a priority and making it known that any online platform that doesn’t also make it a priority, will not get your usage.

Even if you don’t care about what data social media takes you absolutely should care about the ability to stop them from doing the things you disagree with. As any system will tend towards tyranny if not prevented from doing so.