Since the call to remove your Facebook account, there is a debate in Europe about this subject. The last days I have seen a lot of sense and nonsense pass by. Time for an explanation. Because what is it really like?
WhatsApp (and Snapchat)
Before I talk about Facebook, I want to discuss WhatsApp first. In the discussion on social media, I see that people think that WhatsApp shares information with parent company Facebook. They also think that WhatsApp reads your messages.
What does WhatsApp do well?
WhatsApp does more to protect your privacy than you might think. Since April 2016, WhatsApp encrypts your messages. For this, it uses end-to-end encryption. This means that your messages are converted into a kind of code. Should a malicious person intercept your app, he or she will see a knit of characters that can not be tied to a rope.
However, WhatsApp does more. It increases security through the use of SSL / TLS and protection against MITM attacks. These abbreviations might not mean much to you, but WhatsApp is a lot safer than for example Snapchat. Snapchat hardly meets these standards. Moreover, that is quite striking, especially when you consider how popular Snapchat is in young people.
Then perhaps the most beautiful news to conclude. WhatsApp recently promised that it would not share personal data of EU citizens with Facebook until the company can comply with the new, somewhat strict European privacy legislation (GDPR / AVG). This will be maintained from 25 May, so WhatsApp will undoubtedly endeavor to comply with the rules in Europe.
What could be better?
So far the good news. However, there are also concerns. For example, the encryption technology of WhatsApp is not open source. We can therefore not check whether the encryption has weaknesses. At this point, we should only believe WhatsApp at his word.
Also, WhatsApp only encrypts the content of your messages; your behavioral data is not. So the messaging service cannot read along with you, but it keeps track of which phone numbers communicate with each other, where they do it and when. Oh, and WhatsApp downloads your contact list.
In short, WhatsApp does not read your messages but does have all kinds of other information. All those pieces of information together can tell you a lot about the nature and content of your communication.
Is there an alternative?
You may wonder whether there are also alternatives to WhatsApp. They are sure. Especially the Signal app is often mentioned. The bad news? Signal feels like a deserted pub for a user on a drizzly Monday night. There are just too few people who use it.
So far WhatsApp. Now let’s look at Facebook. Last month, the American company announced that it would anticipate the new European privacy regulations (GDPR / AVG). They had to.
What does Facebook do well?
The company of CEO Mark Zuckerberg is busy making his privacy tools more accessible, under pressure from Europe. All privacy options are neatly on one page. Previously, Facebook had spread this information in a slightly opaque way over about 20 pages.
You can take various actions on the privacy page. For example, you can remove the apps that are linked to your Facebook page. You can also exercise (limited) control over the advertisements you see. Finally, you can ask Facebook to download a download of everything that Facebook says about you.
What could be better?
Regarding transparency not wrong, right? However, what if you want Facebook to permanently delete your data? Alternatively, if you want to know exactly what Facebook does with it? Facebook does not want to go that far.
Facebook is rather aggressive in collecting data. Moreover, as Sunday With Lubach also tried to make clear: the company follows you everywhere, even outside of Facebook itself. You can see this very clearly in the advertisements that Facebook offers you. These are often a striking reflection of your surfing behavior on the worldwide web.
‘Facebook pixel is absolutely illegal.’
Another misunderstanding: Facebook also follows you if you do not have a Facebook account. Via Facebook pixels, the company tracks your IP address on websites that use it. Incidentally, the Facebook pixel from May 25 is ‘absolutely illegal,’ ICT lawyer Arnoud Engelfriet says. Unless you ask permission. Remember that a visitor who refuses the pixel is still entitled to a properly working website.
Anyway, so here is the revenue model of Facebook. The company earns its living by trading in your data. The sun goes up for nothing, you can say. Alternatively,: “If something is free, then you are the product.”
However, why does Facebook not offer us the choice to buy her espionage? I think that many have a small monthly amount for this. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg seems eager to keep the data collection of Facebook as extensive as possible.
If something is free, then you are the product.
The influence of Facebook on our democracy
How far Facebook goes exactly in his hunger for personal data, is difficult to estimate. Mainly because the company is fuzzy about this. Last month Android users discovered that Facebook keeps track of whom you are talking to. There are also rumors that Facebook is listening in via your own microphone, although this is systematically denied.
Perhaps the evilest thing is that Facebook has the power and ability to show us certain messages and other messages. For this, Facebook has developed an algorithm of which hardly anyone knows the operation. Each of us ends up in a ‘filter bubble’ that narrows and steers our view of the world.
However, the algorithm does something remarkable. In recent years, Facebook has increasingly restricted the reach of companies. A company that wants to reach its audience is forced to buy ads from Facebook. As a result, Niche media are under pressure. They do not have the budgets. Consequence? Their journalistic sound is silenced between the screams of the big boys.
All worrying developments that have a direct and indirect influence on our democratic process.
I have nothing to hide!
Maybe you will shrug your shoulders now. Because it is really nice to see messages and advertisements on your screen that match your personal interests? Moreover, what do you have to hide? I have often seen this last argument over the past few days. However, is it right? Do we have nothing to hide?
For example, let’s look at one of the first questions that Facebook asks new users: “Are you interested in men or women?” This seems like an innocent question until you realize that homosexuality is punishable in almost half of the world. In some countries, even the death penalty is imposed. Then you understand how vulnerable this kind of seemingly futile information is.
That is where part of the problem lies. Can we trust that our information at Facebook is now and always in good hands?
Just another example. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz worked as a data scientist for Google for a year and a half and last year published a book about the search behavior of Americans on the Internet with the aptly titled Everybody Lies (Economist Book of the Year). He scrutinized a gigantic dataset of Google searches and discovered our deepest secrets.
The book beautifully shows the paradox of big data: it delivers unprecedented learning science at a price we pay with our privacy. I give an example.
Seth sees as many as 7 million searches a year with the racist word ‘nigger’ in it. According to him, hidden racism is a much bigger problem than expected. It is only one of his many remarkable observations. Seth’s conclusion is as follows: the side of ourselves that we do not dare to show in anonymous surveys, we do trust Google. Moreover, therefore probably also to Facebook.
Is there an alternative?
Almost 10 million Dutch users are on Facebook. That probably gives you the feeling that you will miss a lot when you leave. Still, Facebook has less business relevance compared to, for example, LinkedIn. More and more people are saving themselves well with telephone, e-mail, SMS and social media from a less questionable sources.
However, if we all lift Facebook, are we there? Of course not. As mentioned, Google and many other companies are also guilty of it. Moreover, Facebook with Instagram has an equally questionable alternative. If Facebook can not increase its data collection via Facebook, it will focus its arrows more and more on Instagram.
Role of the government
In that respect, you should see the cancellation of your account as a symbolic act. Facebook is one of many companies that has grown in neo-liberal times. Slowly but surely we discover that this system has many disadvantages. Those who do not want to get rid of Facebook do well to delve into tools that disable trackers and other measures. (See also: whatthehack.eu)
My hope is that Sunday’s action with Lubach inspires the government to keep thinking about our data security. A ban on the use of Facebook advertising by companies goes far, but should not be immediately excluded as an option. It would ensure fairer competition among publishers. Moreover, it forces companies to primarily use their budgets for excellent content.
Now ‘sponsoring’ companies with their ads a little transparent company in America that acts in our personal and behavioral data. I do not think that is entirely pure. Moreover, we must not forget that social media in construction is primarily intended to connect people with people. For companies, it should be sufficient to speak to those people when they have questions and occasionally post an organic message.
Happy with EU
However, let us also count our blessings for this moment. Because what makes this whole discussion clear is that we should be happy that we live in the EU. The EU has already achieved some great victories over the big boys regarding our digital security. The new privacy law that goes into effect in May is absolutely an example of this. It is still very questionable whether Zuckerberg will implement the adaptations he is forced by Europe elsewhere in the world.