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Tech Talk

Facebook knows virtually everything about you

5/2/2018

And, passively, it’s all your fault.

Ninety-five percent of the world has no idea how the Internet works. Security breaches, data leaks, identity theft — these are life-altering events that the Internet has inflicted on millions of people (probably billions at this point). So why did every media outlet cover the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica story as if national security was at stake?

The immediate half-answer is the sour state of American politics where everyone is still trying to figure out the narrative for the past presidential election. If a foreign outfit nefariously uses U.S. citizens’ “private data” to help swing an election, the harvester of that data should explain how that happened. But, of course, it’s not that simple.
“Private data” does not exist when it comes to the Internet, and most anyone who says otherwise is selling you something. Seriously, when you sign up for any “free” service online, what you are actually doing is turning yourself into a renewable commodity that is giving the service provider rights to use, and minimally safeguard, every piece of information you share or handle on their platform.

Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and a thousand other smaller outfits know virtually everything about you, and passively it’s all your fault. Think of all the platforms on which you have your credit card stored. Where you’ve searched for information on your political or religious beliefs. Where you’ve stored personal pictures and videos. Streamed media from. If it’s online and you’re using your personal device, or even using your home Internet access (yes, that information is stored everywhere as well), then you’re being monitored and, at some point, you actually agreed to it.)

Sure, collecting all this is highly unethical, but welcome to America for the last 100 years. Facebook is our current whipping boy, but while the Internet was a twinkle in UCLA’s eye, creditors, store keepers, and the federal government were keeping all kinds of sloppy records about us without even so much as a courtesy telegram.
Now everyone is the unethical beneficiary and unknowing victim of this system. Every Facebook page and small business website can harvest information on you thanks to IP addresses, the death of open internet protocols (i.e. Net Neutrality) and the website cookie system. If you have someone’s email address (or even physical address), you can find a wealth of information about them online and solicit them to buy something, join your cause, follow your Twitter feed, or like your Facebook page.

The problem is that the Internet is poorly regulated, and the people who could potentially formulate and enact regulations are as clueless about the situation as everyone else.

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Now maybe you’re a political warrior and feel Facebook should have its feet over the flames of justice. That’s nice. Where were you last July when half of America lost its social security numbers, credit history and virtually all personally identifiable data in the Equifax breach? Oh, you forgot about that? Too busy Googling the latest update on the collusion crusade to demand our federal representatives do something to safeguard our digital lives? That was 10 times the fiasco Facebook was because no one has willingly agreed to allow the crediting agencies to look at, let alone sell, our information.

This Facebook story is nothing. By the end of summer, all anyone will remember are the Zuckerberg memes and the sad Congressional panel that didn’t know what Facebook was. If you really care, put down this magazine for a moment and call, email, tweet and write your Senators to take a computer science literacy class and then take action to protect access to citizen digital data and put real consequences to data breaches in place. ♦

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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