What you should know about your personal information online

Apr 20, 2018
Everything you do online is captured. Source: Stock

Facebook is the most well-known and well-used social media site on the internet today, but it comes with increasing concerns. Concerns about our privacy. Concerns about its manipulation of our thoughts, and more.

Recently I read a number of articles about Facebook that are eye-opening. ‘A Facebook Future’ by Dr Nafeez Ahmed in the latest edition of Nexus Magazine and ‘The weird and surprising things I found in the file Facebook has on me’ by Nick Whigham in News.com.au. on February 28 were perhaps the most informative.

Just after I wrote this, a commentary about Facebook appeared on Channel 7’s Sunrise program.

As you already know, anything you put ‘out there’ in cyberspace, stays there. Every comment you make, selfie you post, and every site you visit is recorded and will remain as a record forever.

If your photo appears online, your face becomes part of a social-media facial recognition database associated with your name, date of birth and maybe even your address or geographical location at the time it was posted. Governments around the world have or are planning their own versions of these databases, including Australia.

Your comments and site visits are analysed by social media and internet search sites using very high-speed software programs and you are eventually categorised into one or more of thousands of categories. For example, if you visit a weight loss site or comment about your weight loss program, suddenly you’ll find advertisements appearing about weight loss programs and products.

This is amazing use of data — harmless and perhaps even useful to both you and the people trying to sell you stuff. But say you are a member of a political party and frequently engage in discussions about policies, programs and values your party holds? This is where you could run into a challenge.

Parties other than yours can pay Facebook to serve you articles and advertisements that are intended to convince you that your party’s policies, programs and values are contrary to the public interest, national security or something else.

This is called opinion influencing and it’s becoming more common a tool used by political parties, religious groups, social engineers and others wishing to influence your opinion about everything from what soap to use to who to vote for at the next election.

Add to the above its success in distributing ‘fake news’, and Facebook is perhaps the most powerful determinant of elections on the planet right now. In fact, Ahmed says in his Nexus article that “Facebook will infiltrate elections and rule the world in the space of 10 years — unless we stop it.”

If you aren’t already concerned about Facebook, perhaps you should point to the ‘settings’ link at the top right of your Facebook page and download your history. You may be surprised how much it contains.

Have you ever been concerned about the personal information you are sharing online? What steps have you taken to protect your privacy?

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