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Be careful what you share on social media

By Demas Kiprono | January 15th 2021 at 09:00:00 GMT +0300



Recently, WhatsApp sent its subscribers a notification changing their user privacy policy on data-sharing procedures with Facebook, its parent company since 2014.

Many were concerned that the updated privacy policy would facilitate sharing of sensitive and private profile information with Facebook, which has been accused of collecting and selling user information for very accurate targeted marketing that has turned users into products.

The apprehension has caused more than 25 million WhatsApp users to migrate to Signal and Telegram chat platforms. In an explanation that came a bit late, WhatsApp has clarified that it intends to use Facebook servers to store its chat logs.

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WhatsApp explained that due to end-to-end encryption, it can’t access private messages or calls and neither can Facebook; that it doesn’t have access to who we call or message or share contacts with; that WhatsApp groups remain private; and you can opt to have your messages disappear once read.

The targeted advertising relies on collection of data sets, including search history, pages visited, location data, contacts, age, sex, movies and the music you like, including data collected even when we are offline. For instance, Android collects user information on places visited even when offline and uploads it to Google daily.

In recent years, the two tech giants - Google and Facebook have been accused of infringing on people’s privacy by relying on a surveillance-based business model based on the consent-less mass capturing of people’s information for ad-based manipulation and profit. It is noteworthy that Google owns Android which is the most widely used mobile phone operating system. It also owns Chrome - the most widely used web browser.

Initially, Facebook promised to create a platform for free flow of information and for connecting people. When Facebook took root in the mid-2000s, we thought it would allow us to reconnect with friends, especially those we had lost contact with, as well as meet new friends from all over the world. We routinely shared our photos, interests, places we visit and thoughts without ever thinking about the privacy implications. Today, we have to live with the fact that Facebook knows everything about us, including all our private chats from all those years ago. 

Unknowingly, we convey to these tech giants, especially google, very sensitive information about us. More information than you would tell your best friend, family member, spouse or the authorities. Such as when you search your symptoms, illnesses or family diseases, the videos you watch, where you go, device information such as contacts et cetera.

Increasingly, these tech giants determine the way we lead our lives in terms of what we drink, eat, buy, how we connect with our friends and family and even our political persuasions.

They have morphed into the business of the dissemination of news, information and opinions that we see online. They literally broadcast news and media to billions of people every day, yet they are not characterised as media companies in the traditional sense. As a result, they are not subject to the same regulations as their counterparts in traditional media, meaning they have less legal liability when they disseminate problematic speech such as hate speech.

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In the past five years, Facebook has been accused of being complicit in the misinformation and hate campaigns that affected the Brexit campaigns in the UK, the 2016 USA elections where Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to send targeted messages; and even the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

Last week’s insurrection by right-wing Trump supporters against the USA Congress prompted Facebook and Twitter to suspend Trump’s accounts. Furthermore, Apple, Google and Amazon removed the social media App “Parler” from their platforms because it was being used by extremists to organise.

In 2019, Facebook formed an Independent Oversight Board, where Maina Kiai is a member, to oversee content decisions for removal of content. It remains to be seen how it will surmount challenges of the various languages and dialects used as well as the sheer volume of content posted on the network daily.

Going forward, we must formulate ways to make tech giants less intrusive to safeguard freedom of expression and privacy as well as root out problematic speech.

Mr Kiprono is Commissioner, Media Complaints [email protected]

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