Photo Credit: Octavio Martinez & Silicon Valley De-Bug
Originally Published at SiliconValley De-Bug.
While you’re happily playing the latest online game, sending texts, tweeting, posting content or doing Google searches, your digital data is being recorded, aggregated, marketed and sold without your knowledge or permission and its created an online profile that could seriously mess with your future.
Illinois Institute of Technology Law Professor Lori Andrews says colleges and employers routinely reject applicants after checking them out on the social networks. Her new book is called, “I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy.”
Fifty percent of the employers she polled say they won’t hire applicants with an online photo showing them holding an alcoholic beverage, or what looks like one.
How do they know? They look online or hire firms like Sterling Infosystems, Inc. to perform “social media background checks”.
Andrews says courts, high schools, police departments and credit card companies now take information from social networks and use it as evidence in legal proceedings, school suspensions, criminal cases and credit reviews.
Big Brother is Watching You
Every week the New York Times reports more unauthorized data mining. They’ve reported that developers can take photos from Apple mobile and Google Android devices and app developers can take your smartphones’ address book at will.
Even if you actually read the fine print of online user agreements and allow your data to be accessed, it’s often not clear how it will be used and archived.
Last month your tweets were sold. Twitter announced a deal that allows the analytics firm Datasift to sell the last two years’ worth of posted public tweets. Google saves and employs your search histories and, whether you’ve tagged them or not, posted photos associated with your name are added to the virtual dossier created by the data aggregators who collect your internet inputs and sell them to the advertisers who target you online.
The Death of Privacy Laws
Andrews says with respect to every other technology courts have not hesitated to apply Constitutional principles to protect users’ rights, but courts have allowed social networks, data aggregators and third parties using social network information to ignore the privacy rights of individuals. She says the constitutional privacy protections we enjoy offline don’t apply online.
Too Big to F*ck With
The digital data aggregation/advertising industry is huge and largely unseen by users. Take FB as an example; if it was a country, its 850 million members would make it the largest in the world.
Because it’s not a publicly traded company, FB isn’t required to publically report its earnings but estimators say FB earned over $4 billion in 2011, with most earned from the sale of targeted ads. Meanwhile, Google pulled in 37.9 billion last year, most from advertisers.
Both have Washington DC lobbyists and political action committees to better influence lawmakers and political candidates to let them do their thing.
“The right to privacy has been an abiding principle in the United States, protected by the U.S. Constitution”, says Andrews. “But as social institutions use social networks to invade privacy, new legal mechanisms may be needed to revitalize the fundamental privacy right.”
Andrews is calling for a Social Network Constitution to protect us online the way the U.S. Constitution protects us offline. Until legislators take that up, here’s what you can do:
1. Knowledge is power. Apps and online amusements aren’t free. They’re the gateway for commercial interests to gather your data. Your posts, texts, web searches, and smartphone’s content aren’t private. When you’re offered a new application or visit a new social networking site, beware. They likely won’t disclose the personal information they’re taking from you, how they’re going to use it or who they’re selling it to.
2. Beware: Don’t disclose anything online that you wouldn’t want anyone to know about.
3. Limit the apps you download and the new social networks you join. New providers may make it easy, quick, fun and free to do something or to post photos, videos and other materials online but they don’t disclose where they get the money to do this for you, what they’re doing with your digital data and who else will be able to access and aggregate it.
4. Privacy Settings: Check the privacy settings and preferences of every program you use and site you visit. Choose the tightest settings, knowing that your data may still be collected without your permission.
5. Be Alert: Don’t allow people to photograph you drinking or doing anything else you don’t want a future employer, college admissions officer, school official, credit bureau or law enforcer to see. If possible prevent your photographs and likenesses from being tagged as associated with you.
6. Use your voice: Share this article. Complain to your lawmakers. Talk to your families, teachers, friends and co-workers about this. Boycott the advertisers you see hitting you up on the sites you visit. Don’t double click their ads, they treat them like yes votes and you’ll see more of them.
7. Learn more and Visit: http://epic.org/ ; www.socialnetworkconstitution.com; and https://www.eff.org/wp/know-your-rights.
Diane Solomon produces and hosts a weekly public affairs program on Radio KKUP, 91.5 fm, and works as a freelance journalist writing for Atom Magazine, Content Magazine, De-Bug, and Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper. She's a full time Silicon Valley wage slave, a Willow Glen Neighborhoodie and a big time San Jose Bike Partier.