We’re so glad that you’re almost over. Besides giving us a remarkably tainted election year, you also provided the worst year ever for free speech and digital privacy rights. And we’re not just talking data breaches or hacks either (looking at you, Yahoo!). It was also the year of unabashed social media censorship, questionable advertising tactics, and the proliferation of fake news for clicks and profit. We’ve rounded up the Top 10 WORST examples from this year, which will go down in the record books as simply being the worst. Join the conversation, too! #WORSTyear4privacy on Facebook and Twitter (PS: HERE are some things you can post!)
- Android & China, Sittin’ in a Tree
What happened: Apparently, there is an Android “backdoor” that is secretly sending user data and texts to China, and no one knows why. The New York Times reported in November that American authorities are “unsure if the data is being collected for advertising purposes or if it’s an actual governmental effort at surveillance.” Not even privacy settings can fix this.
- Snapchat’s Double Vision
Image via Mashable
What happened: Surveillance spectacles — haven’t we been through this before? The same issues that seem to have doomed Google Glass are now threatening Snapchat (Now “Snap”) with the same fate. Snapchat’s new video Spectacles (aka surveillance for your face) is, with good reason, raising massive privacy concerns. The glasses are able to record up to 10 seconds of video at a time, which are then automatically uploaded to a user’s ‘Memories’ section. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Remember, these videos do not self-destruct, and once something is on the internet it is pretty much there forever. And there’s nothing to stop these memories from being used in inappropriate ways, since it allows wearers to record others without their knowledge. These Spectacles bring us all one step closer to a 24/7 surveillance state — No thank you.
- Uber Takes Users for a Ride
Image: The Daily Beast
What happened: Uber’s ridesharing service may be super convenient, but its latest update brings the creep factor up to a 10, as Uber is now tracking passengers after they get out of the car. Plus, Uber is being super sketchy about the whole thing, opting not to be transparent to users or give them the ability to opt out. Buzzfeed reported that Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for speech, privacy and technology at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called the change “a fairly aggressive use of a customer’s data… if Uber wants to make a case to its customers that they stand to benefit from additional uses of data, it should make that case and let customers opt in.” The five-minute thing is scary. While it’s not 24/7 tracking, it does leave open the possibility to do just that, which is even scarier.” Sounds weirdly familiar to when Facebook was discovered tracking non-members, right?
- WhatsApp Sells Out, Big Time
What happened: Once hailed for its privacy and encryption, WhatsApp announced in 2016 that under its new terms and conditions, it will now track and share your activity on the app (who you are talking to, when, where you are, for how long, etc.) and your personal information (your phone number and everything else they know about you) and even more — with its parent company, Facebook. That’s right, just in case you forgot, Facebook owns WhatsApp. “The whole point of having encryption is that everything you do is private, not just what you say” says privacy expert and MeWe founder, Mark Weinstein. Bad move, WhatsApp – your members are furious. MeWe’s optional Secret Chat has end-to-end encryption and no tracking.
- Facebook’s Racist Ad Tool
Image: Thomson Reuters
What happened: It was revealed that Facebook allows advertisers to use a tool that enables them to exclude “ethnic affinities”, such as African-Americans or Hispanics, from viewing certain ads. You don’t remember specifying your race when you signed up for Facebook? That’s because you didn’t. Facebook doesn’t need to ask you your race, religion, or anything. It collects enough data about you to determine everything about you including your race, without your help. Every ‘like’, photo, location, personal message, and click are collected (and sold), letting them know just about everything about you. Facebook even tracks you when you’re not on Facebook; tracking your every move across the web (talk about a permanent record)! Even scarier than how much data Facebook has on any given member is how it actually uses that data —manipulating your news feed (and emotions), including every ad that you see (allowing advertisers to discriminate in any way they’d like to, including race). Facebook isn’t the only guilty party by the way. Let’s not forget how many times this year that SnapChat has been caught being racist tool.
- Activists Aren’t Safe Online: You Are Next
What happened: This story has been developing since 2015, but news broke earlier this year that the ACLU of California obtained records showing that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all provided user data access to Geofeedia, a third-party social media monitoring tool that is marketed to law enforcement. “[The ACLU] first learned about these agreements with Geofeedia from responses to public records requests to 63 California law enforcement agencies. These records revealed the fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight.” Geofeedia is a straight-up surveillance tool, used by law enforcement to monitor activist and protestor conversations (which is why organizations such as Black Lives Matter were literally forced from organizing on social). And if you’re not an activist? You’re still not safe. We’re in Donald Trump’s America now. If you were a Bernie or Jill supporter, or liked one of their pages — who’s to say that you aren’t an activist and a perfect target? Not saying it’s coming to that, but it certainly could be. And seriously, what is stopping the powers-that-be from monitoring all conversations, activist or otherwise? Didn’t Edward Snowden say . . .
- Facebook Marries the Chinese Government
What Happened: Facebook is going to China and is giving the Chinese government access to all member data, conversations, everything as a price of admission. But Facebook is all about the money, so they happily exchange data for market access. Does this sound like a proud American company steeped in the principles of freedom and democracy? Even worse, Facebook has been quietly developing a “censorship” software tool to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas (read “China”), according to three current and former Facebook employees. The feature was created to help Facebook get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked. Zuckerberg is a big fan of this tool, and has supported and defended the effort, because he desperately wants Facebook to be in China. The global implications of this are huge. If this can be used in China, what is preventing it from being used here in the United States? Of course they’ve been filtering (censoring) our news feeds for years. Since nearly half of U.S. adults now use Facebook as their primary news source, a censorship tool is a very scary thought for freedom of the press and for our ability to critically think based on the information we do and do not receive.
- UK Makes it Extreme
Photo via Getty Images
What Happened: The UK just passed a bill that legalized global surveillance, including bulk data collection and hacking. What is even more outrageous is that that the UK has actually been conducting this surveillance more or less in secret for years. The bill requires internet and phone companies to store communications data generated by email, apps and internet use for 12 months and make that information accessible to police and security services. Edward Snowden had this to say about the bill: “the UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes farther than many autocracies.” Once again, Snowden comes in as the voice of reason.
- Google Gone Terribly Wrong
What happened: Are Jews devils? Muslims bad? Women evil? If you ask Google, then the answer is a resounding YES to all of the above. Google’s auto-suggestions have been known to suggest some hateful and bigoted searches, offering even worse search results. Type “Are Jews” into the search bar, and Google is quick to suggest “evil” as the 3rd word. Run that search and the entire first page of results are all affirmative. This is a huge problem for obvious reasons, but considering it has been proven that the order of the search results influences people’s opinions and perspectives, you can see how Google searches can proliferate bias and hate. This played a huge role in the 2016 presidential election, according to Jonathan Albright, an assistant professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina. Albright did a study to see how Facebook and Google may have influenced the election, showing how these ideas and perspectives can spread like a virus. Most of us expect Google to provide unbiased, accurate information — but it has been shown that the exact opposite is too often the case. And Google may be the biggest privacy violator of all time – with thousands of points of data on you, snuggled in your personal data packet that they sell to data brokers and advertisers and share with the government. Why did that particular ad just pop up on your browser window? What were you Googling?
… and #1…
- Facebook’s Proliferation of Fake News
What happened: This has been dominating the [real] news for weeks now… but here’s a refresh and reasons why it’s our #1 sh***y thing to happen this year. Forty-four percent of adults get their news from Facebook, which is a huge problem. There is no oversight or safeguards. It’s a platform whose algorithm rewards fake news and click bait. The more sensational the headline, the more clicks and engagement, and therefore more $$. When asked if Facebook had a part in the outcome of the election, Zuckerberg said that was “a crazy idea.” BUT, back in 2012 Zuckerberg and Facebook were literally pitching political advertisers exactly that or so says Antonio Garcia-Martinez, who worked as an ads-targeting product manager at Facebook until 2013. “Now Zuck is going and saying, ‘No that’s impossible.‘”
Literally the definition of insanity.
Mark Weinstein puts it perfectly: “Social media sites have a responsibility to the public to not tolerate lies and most important, not profit off of them. It’s a vulnerability that will need to be addressed without impacting freedom of speech. Perhaps it’s time for us to shake off Facebook’s manipulating grip and take our friends to a better place.”
Honorable Mention: Yahoo! Hack & User Surveillance
Image via TechCrunch
What Happened: We can’t talk about Yahoo! without talking about the hacks. The first hack, first disclosed in September, affected 500 million accounts. Then in December we learned that another hack in 2013, impacted 1 billion users! What is going on at Yahoo!?
In between those announcements we learned that Yahoo had provided and allowed U.S. intelligence agencies to read through Yahoo user emails. We’re not talking about tracking terrorists or anything like that. We’re talking about Yahoo handing over the right for the U.S. and other paying governments to scan all incoming emails in search of red flag phrases or keywords. All those emails you’ve written and received with discussions about politics and people that were assumed to be private and meant as inside jokes for you and your friends were being filtered through CIA headquarters.
Kind of makes you wonder what you’ve written in the past few years, doesn’t it? What’s in your online “permanent record”?
So, what can YOU do about all of this?
From all of this BS happening in the world, it’s clear that the main perpetrator (at least the one who made the list more than a few times) is Facebook. So, let’s all get off of Facebook. I know, all your friends are there. But what does that mean once Facebook starts censoring you or making backdoor deals with places like China? Plus, everything you do is stored in your online permanent record: what you like, your politics, your partying, your religion, your health issues, who you’re friends with, what you say… It affects your ability to get a job, a bank loan — basically everything. How is this ok? It’s NOT.
As we’ve seen this year and others before it, the world can be a terrifying place (don’t even get me started on the Russian hackers and the Democratic Committee). But there’s a respite, at least online, and that place is MeWe, the next-gen social network, private chat, and group sharing app, for both consumers (MeWe) and enterprises (MeWePRO), that solves the privacy problem. MeWe has No Ads. No Tracking. No Algorithms. No BS. MeWe does NOT collect your data. MeWe does not have data packets on its members to give to 3rd parties, hackers, or the government. There are no ways to boost fake news. Our founder, Mark Weinstein, is one of the world’s leading privacy advocates. The inventor of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is a MeWe Advisor.
Join MeWe today and see how good it feels to not be taken advantage of, manipulated by, or sold by a tech company (Facebook or otherwise) or its technology.
Tell everyone in your world: Let’s MeWe!
Know about a privacy crime we missed? Join the conversation: #WORSTyear4privacy
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