Science & Technology

Your favourite social media is collecting data about you

Keeping your private information is a challenge with social media.

Funny video sharing app TikTok has agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle a lawsuit for allegedly collecting personal data from children under the age of 13. This collected data included names, emails, addresses, and their location.

Of course, it isn’t just Tik Tok and Facebook, your personal data is being collected wherever you go online. And it’s being used with and without your consent. 

The $5.7 million lawsuit means little to Tik Tok’s owner, ByteDance, which is valued at $75 billion USD.

ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, another video-sharing app, for about $1 billion, according to Money. Musical.ly was uncovered to have practices of collecting and exposing location data of young children. This same app just recently merged with TikTok last August. 

All the information collected by Musical.ly was a clear violation of the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, says the Federal Trade Commission. The accounts commonly explicitly contained the child’s age, birth date, and school.

Statistica claims to say that about 3.08 billion people are users of social media in 2020. That’s about 38% of the world population. 

They also recorded that there were one billion active monthly users on Instagram in June 2018. That represents lucrative amounts of data to be gathered by the tech giant, Facebook.

Your favourite social media app is not just used to connect with the people you know and the celebrity that you look up to. Facebook doesn’t run Instagram for free just because they are friendly people; they are selling your data. 

They sell this data to advertisers so they can reach the audience looking for their product or service. That eye-catching ad or a good deal on that product you were just searching for is the result of targeted advertising.

The New York Times classifies them as “Stalker ads.”

The Economist reported that “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” Could the future economy revolve around data?

In early 2018 the company, Cambridge Analytica, now rebranded to Emerdata, was revealed to be collecting personal data on millions of Facebook profiles without their consent. This was used for political advertising. They offered tools to identify personalities and influence the behaviour of individuals and have used those tools to tip the balance of elections throughout the world.

Privacy International, an organization, working since 1990 to promote the human right of privacy, claiming,” Personal data is central to this emerging way of seeking to influence democratic processes.” 

The uses of raw data about populations can be misleading when data points are connected, and information is extrapolated from it. For example, you go to Costco often, and the collected data may point out that you love to shop a lot. But in reality, you enjoy the hotdogs they serve. You don’t even shop there at all.

A large offender of sharing location data is Snapchat, which tells all your contacts where you are currently every single time you open the app.

A Snapchat representative said, “The safety of our community is very important to us, and we want to make sure that all Snapchatters, parents, and educators have accurate information about how the Snap Map works.”

Dani Deahl, writing for The Verge, points out that “The way Snap Map currently functions and is communicated to users provides an opportunity for lurking, stalking, and other dangerous activities with real-life consequences.”

“You wouldn’t want to scream to people on the internet your current location at all times, would you?” says, a student at the University of British Columbia, Mike Huang, who studies data science and data analysis. 

What’s worse is that these apps are popular among adults, teenagers, and even small children.

Because of the fact that some apps are not based in the US, it can create problems regulating them. TikTok, for example, is based in China, and they must store their data within China. So who is held accountable?

“We’re a Chinese company. We answer to China.” says a former TikTok employee.

Image Credit: Pexels / Pixabay

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