I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine via Google’s Gchat. We’ve met online years ago. To my dismay, later the same day this person appeared on my People You May Know list on my Facebook homepage. I was skeptical.. Apart from their name being a common one, we do not have any mutual friends. But on viewing the details on their profile, it happened to be the very same person. I was shocked. I am being watched, I thought.
I opened a Facebook account late last year, 11 months after deleting my previous account. My friends list boasts less than 70 people. This account, I had intended, was for the people whom I am close to.. Not for long lost high school and campus “friends” I’ve greeted just once before. What are the chances that the above may have been coincidental? Exactly how much of my activities does Google log and how much of the logged data do they willingly “hand out” to other tech giants? Something as personal as a chat surely should be placed on a higher level of privacy…
Before deleting my Facebook account late 2010, a friend of mine from another continent and I had used facebook as a primary means of communication. Prior to getting rid of the account, I got her on my Skype. Even though we have no mutual friends, not from the same country neither the same time zone, she appeared on the People You May Know list the day I opened my new Facebook account. What’s the point of offering Facebook users the option of deleting their account (in the hope of erasing memories from the past, no doubt) when all info is clearly still logged somewhere on the interwebs, spilled out at you the moment you open a new account? Should users not have the option to decide how much of their activities do they want logged and how much of it should be disposed of at their will? It is us, the users that sustain the life of these corporations, making it a growing success. The power should lie with us.
Youtube is no angel either. Owned by Google, data sharing between the two is something we ought to expect. Almost obvious. I have been on the search for properties across South Africa in the last few months. It took me a while to realise that the ads I see on Youtube videos I watch these days (before promptly clicking the tiny “x” on the right hand side), are all from Property24.com. Coincidence? Absolutely.. not.
Users are aware of the reason for storing this information: to maximise the experience tailored to each user; and for advertising purposes. But there should be an option as to how much the user wishes to share their activities and interests with Google, Facebook and the like. Google’s privacy FAQ openly states that they record (and keep) page requests. These “server logs” include the likes of the web request; IP addresses; browser type and language; the date and time of the request; as well as one or more cookies that may specifically identify the user’s browser. Google representatives’ latest update reveals they’ve privately said Google intends to add new controls in the future: controls that will supposedly allow users to turn off data sharing between Google’s services. Hmm.. and what about sharing data with Facebook?
Facebook claims that they only record online activity of a user while they are logged onto Facebook. But just recently this claim turned out to be false. A lawsuit against Facebook argues that Facebook still tracks user activity well after they have logged off, violating the privacy rights of the user. In fact, Facebook admits reading smartphone users’ text messages once they’ve downloaded the social networking application onto their device. Privacy invasion taken to an entirely new level. This is outrageous.
Be wary, media consumers. They’re hell-bent on following our every move.