Another day, another oops from Facebook who confirmed it gave data access to a Chinese firm flagged by U.S. intelligence, which would be Huawei, in addition to at least three other companies TCL, Oppo and Lenovo. This data sharing has been going on since 2010. According to the New York Times:"Facebook officials said the agreements with the Chinese companies allowed them access similar to what was offered to BlackBerry, which could retrieve detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status."
This should be a chilling revelation on several levels. A giant capitalist corporation sharing personal data with a communist government, despite the fact Facebook has been banned in China since 2009. Said corporation being less than transparent about this practice for close to a decade. And now it is revealed one of those companies in question has been flagged as a national security threat. All of which begs the question, why on Earth would we believe anything Facebook says from here on out?
It took a long time for people to realize just how much we are being monitored by social media companies. It took even longer for people to realize this practice has more to do with social engineering than selling ads. Jaron Lanier's excellent new book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now covers this in great detail. Lanier is hopeful that a solution can be found to unravel all the harm that has been done by the likes of Facebook and Twitter, I'm not convinced you can change the genie, let alone put it back in the box.
You certainly can't trick it.
For a while, people believed that "liking," something you don't really like would somehow throw a wrench in the algorithm machine and stick it to the advertising man, but it doesn't work all that well. At this point, Facebook knows too much about you. Including your mood. Could that explain why so many ads appear in your Instafeed that seem like they are reading your mind?
Or perhaps there's another reason: Your phone. An article in Vice came out today called "Your Phone Is Listening and it's Not Paranoia," that proves (albeit anecdotally) that your phone is listening in on your conversations. and presumably your Alexa and your HomePod, too.
The author tries an experiment, saying a bunch of phrases that could be trigger words for five days, twice a day, to see if the ads responded. The results were a resounding yes. So does this prove companies are using our phones to listen in on our conversations?
"According to Dr. Peter Hannay—The senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterisk, and former lecturer and researcher at Edith Cowan University—the short answer is yes, but perhaps in a way that's not as diabolical as it sounds.
For your smartphone to actually pay attention and record your conversation, there needs to be a trigger, such as when you say “hey Siri” or “okay Google.” In the absence of these triggers, any data you provide is only processed within your own phone. This might not seem a cause for alarm, but any third party applications you have on your phone—like Facebook for example—still have access to this “non-triggered” data. And whether or not they use this data is really up to them."
It's that last part that should have everyone worried. the Vice article concludes by suggesting this data is only going to advertisers, so it's not all that big a deal. Except it is. As a consumer as well as someone who works in advertising, I do not wish to be part of an experiment I'm not conscious of, and I don't want my ads served up to people whose conversations Google is listening in on either. While Facebook denied this practice in 2016, we keep uncovering more "oops," from them, too. Why would anyone believe anything they say at this point?
As the years and weeks go by, we're realizing just how influenced we are (consciously and unconsciously) by just a few corporate giants. Companies who can arbitrarily deny someone their service based on what they say, and companies who fire people based on wrongthink. Companies who are repeatedly caught lying. If they are listening to "snippets," of conversation to sell you something, it's not hard to imagine they can listen for words they don't agree with, either.
Paranoia and tin-foil hat fantasies aside, the reality should be enough to scare all of us in the industry. myth. But now when you're working or a social or digital brief, you are hearing about "user behavior," from some social/digital strategist, it's now exactly what we are doing. As far as I'm concerned we are as much a part of the problem as the social media companies who covertly manipulate us for dollars. The advertising industry is complicit in this practice.
I'm hoping as more agencies jump on the "woke," bandwagon when it comes to women, diversity, LGBTQ issues, immigration and the like, that one day soon we'll start saying no to these tech giants. We don't even have to do it in person. We can say it out loud, next to our phones.